Leo Tolstoy Questions and Answers

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In "The Three Questions," was the king satisfied with the hermit's answer?

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Philip Arrington eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The short story "The Three Questions" by Leo Tolstoy is a parable about a king seeking wisdom by getting answers to three questions. He wants to know the right time for every action, the right people to listen to, and the most important thing to do in every situation. He offers a generous reward to anyone who can tell him these things, so many people come to counsel him. However, he is dissatisfied with their replies. In frustration, he seeks out a supposedly wise hermit.

When the king reaches the hermit's cottage, he asks his questions but receives no reply. Instead, he helps the hermit with his gardening and then tends to a man who has been wounded. It turns out that the wounded man was an enemy planning to kill the king, but they reconcile and become friends.

The king tries once more to ask his questions, but the hermit says that they have already been answered by what has recently occurred: now is the most important time, the most important person is the one you are with, and the most important action is to do good.

The story does not directly tell us whether or not the king is satisfied with the hermit's answer. Because of what transpired before, though, we can assume that the king is satisfied, because he did the right thing at the right time to the right person and, as a consequence, got the right result.

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Madeleine Wells eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In answer to your question, the king must have been satisfied with the hermit's answers; after all, Tolstoy does not indicate otherwise. Additionally, the king voiced no complaint regarding what he heard.

The text tells us that this king is not one to keep his opinions to himself nor is he one to be satisfied with placatory words. Earlier in the story, we discover that the king was dissatisfied with the answers he received from the wise men. Thus, he rewarded none of them and sought out the hermit, instead. Tolstoy ends the story immediately after the hermit provides his answers to the king.

The hermit's speech testifies powerfully to the truths he speaks, and it is telling that Tolstoy lets him have the last word.

1) When is the right time?

According to the hermit, the right time is the present, the only time we have "dominion over ourselves."


2) Who are the right people?

According to the hermit, the right people are the ones we are currently engaged with, because "no one can know whether or not he will ever have dealings with any other man."


3) What is the most important thing to do?

According to the hermit, the most important thing to do at any one time is to "do good" to the person(s) we are with.

The hermit's words make perfect sense and that is why the king has no argument against them. Thus, we can conclude that the king was satisfied with the hermit's answers.

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The hermit doesn't answer the king's questions, at least not verbally. In fact, the hermit appears to ignore the king, continuing to go about his digging as if there was no one there. In any case, as we subsequently learn from the story, actions speak louder than words. The hermit doesn't need to say anything in response to the king; he simply stands back and allows the king to work out the answers to his own questions by tending to the wounds of the seriously injured stranger.

After doing so, the king now has the answers to his three original questions:

  • What is the right time for every action? The right time is always now.
  • Who are the most important people? The people that you're with—in this case, the injured stranger.
  • How might we know what's the most important thing to do? The most important thing is always to do good to the person you're with, as the king does when he tends to the injured man's wounds.

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