Perception Vs. Reality: Uncovering the True Wisdom of Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy.

In his last years, Tolstoy changed his writing style to a straightforward manner. (Image: via Public Domain)

How does one define true wisdom? It is not easy. But many examples can illustrate it. This story will be about doing just that using an example of Leo Tolstoy’s writing.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a renowned Russian novelist, philosopher, and educator. As a young man, he and his brother joined the army. They witnessed the cruelty of modern warfare, which inspired his humanitarian and anti-war thinking, and became an essential source of nourishment for his subsequent writings.

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He is considered one of the 19th century’s greatest writers, with War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Resurrection among his best-known works.

Leo Tolstoy wrote many religious and legendary fables, hoping to convey a moral, a good and beautiful universal value in a way that most people can understand, the most famous of which is his short story Ivan the Fool, written in 1886. (Image: via Public Domain)

Leo Tolstoy’s later years: A simple, concise, and clear writing style

In his last years, Leo Tolstoy changed his writing style to a straightforward manner, writing many religious and legendary fables, hoping to convey moral, good, and beautiful universal values in a way that most people could understand, the most famous of which is his short story Ivan the Fool written in 1886.

The fool’s choice: Ivan’s unwavering decision

Once upon a time, in a remote village, there was a man named Ivan, the son of a family whose two older brothers left home when they reached adulthood. Ivan was left alone at home to take care of his aging father. Later, his elder brother became a soldier under the Tsar, and his second brother became a wealthy merchant.

Although they were both successful in their careers, they were greedy, spendthrifts, and often failed to make ends meet. Faced with his brother’s unreasonable request, Ivan gladly accepted, leaving behind only an old house and horse, plowing the fields and providing for his father as usual. Naturally, everyone laughed at him for being a fool.

The old devil’s plan: Tempting Ivan with money and fame

In the distant sky, the old devil found that Ivan’s family was happy and harmonious and did not fall apart because of the family’s fortune. Then the devil was very angry, so he sent three brats to deal with the three brothers respectively. The two brothers soon fell into the way of the brats and lost everything, and fled back home for refuge; only Ivan was not moved.

Facing all kinds of temptations and tricks, he turned a blind eye to them and insisted on going to the fields daily. The old devil could not do anything to him at all. Instead, he repelled them individually and helped his two brothers rise again.

Finally, the old devil defeated the lustful brothers again and became penniless, but when the devil met Ivan, he could do nothing. Whether he sent soldiers to threaten his life or tempted him with money or fame, he was ineffective.

In contrast to typical heroes, Ivan's simplicity and lack of guile turn out to help him in his adventures.
In contrast to typical heroes, Ivan’s simplicity and lack of guile turn out to help him in his adventures. (Image: via Public Domain)

A place of happiness and harmony

Later, many people who heard of Ivan’s fame came from other sites and were willing to live with him. Ivan agreed one by one, but he had a condition, that is, only people with calluses on their hands who were willing to labor and work hard, could eat. Thus, although the people had no money, they were well-fed and happy.

Everyone was content with what they had and worked hard to make a living. Therefore, the people lived in harmony and peace, and all respected and admired Ivan.

True wisdom: Ivan’s representation of purity and kindness

In the story, Ivan’s elder brother and younger brother represent the two weaknesses of human nature — money and power. Leo Tolstoy’s Ivan, on the other hand, is pure and kind, does not fight, does not want, is content with what he has done, is down-to-earth, does not have cleaver intents, but lives a simple and happy life.

It is clear that Ivan was not foolish, but was merely perceived as such by others owing to his simple nature and joy. Ivan’s unwavering decision to stay true to his values and beliefs, despite the temptations of money and fame, is a testament to his true wisdom and is a lesson for everyone.

Translated by Eva

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