Categories: Literary

POWER AND SUBMISSION IN LEONID ANDREYEV’S THE MAN WHO FOUND THE TRUTH

How far canand should we be sure of our lives? You have a job, a good wife, and good prospects for the future? Are you sure you won’t lose them tomorrow? The story of the man, whose name we are never given, in Leonid Andreyev’s The Man Who Found The Truth is a story of power and submission. What is the power? Perhaps it is life. Perhaps it is God. This remains a mystery as suits the power. After his initial struggle with the power, the man, who was unjustly accused, found guilty and imprisoned, finds harmony and peace in submission to the power.

27 year oldman when imprisoned
Doctor ofmathematics with unusual success– good prospects, young man
“seized inthe middle of the night” (in the middle of peace) Night represents peace, tranquility, similar to his own life, full of peace (a man of that age might basically be worried about his future but he had no such worries, his success is emphasized (unusual success) and hence his confidence and trust in life; therefore a peaceful existence broken into unexpectedly)

Sleeping man is unconscious to the dangers he might be exposed to, to unwelcome surprises life might present; grammatically speaking, these surprises are active, he is passive. He was seized. Moreover, the sentence is structured in passive, thus hiding from us the subject of this terrible action and making it appear stronger, more mysterious, darker, and more frightening. This invisible subject is also very strong: it not only seized him but also threw him into prison. Seizing and throwing imply power. He is not a piece of paper to be thus seized and thrown. He is a man. But that mysterious power is strong enough to hurl him like a pebble.

The sharpcontrast between the man and the power is underlined. The man is powerless. That power which threw him in prison is omnipotent. The man is bright. He is bright in the sense that he seems to have had a good academic career with unusual success. He is also bright because there is nothing invisible about him. He is what you see he is. He is clear. He is also bright in the sense that he emanates light, that is, he is an academician and therefore he represents enlightenment. The power, however, is dark. You can’t know what it is going to do and when. It is so dark that you can’t see it. But you inevitably feel the effects of its actions. It is also dark in the sense that it is a source of evil. It is a dark force. It drowns the light. It took this bright man in the dark, in the middle of the night, and hurled him into darkness.

The power is unpredictable andcapricious while the man is simple. It can appear out of nowhere and at anytime, and make its effects thoroughly felt. Therefore you can never feel truly safe. It took the man in the middle of the night. Its agents, probably policemen in this case, knock on the door, perhaps break the door, and wake up the man. The man was probably sleeping, possibly under the illusion of a bright future, in his own house, feeling quite safe, far from the dangers that life must impose upon homeless, unemployed, poor people with no prospects of a good future; perhaps he also had the feeling mixed with a secret pride that unlike his lazy comrades at school, he had worked hard and deserved this peace, and was now enjoying the fruits of his hard work. The power, however, forced him out of peace. It attacked him when such an attack was the least expected. And it came suddenly. Why? The reason is not important for the power. It doesn’t seek it. It doesn’t need an excuse. It only says “let there be dark”, and all is dark. All of a sudden and with no reason, it can turn a life (here suggestive of light in its pronunciation) into darkness, and a brilliant and respected man into a “human brute” as the newspapers called him then. Therefore, besides being all powerful, it is capricious. So, you can’t resist it; you can’t say “but”; you can’t ask why. You must submit to it even though you thoroughly feel the injustice. This is exactly what the man does. He says “I shall not narrate to you the details of the monstrous crime of which I was accused”, and the reason he presents for not narrating the details is that people “may not acquire a feeling of

aversion for themselves”. He is not being honest herebecause later in the story (not much later, just in the next paragraph) he does narrate the details. So, why does he choose to evade the question here? Because the real question that the reader has in mind here is not what, but it is why. So, he doesn’t want to talk about the reason because there is none! He submits; he is afraid of questioning and of leading the reader into questioning. He is expecting, and in a way, forcing the reader to submit likewise, and accept things as they are because this is, according to him, the natural reaction to the ways of the world. You shouldn’t ask why because this won’t change anything. Isn’t he right? Question he certainly did when he was arrested and put to prison. But now he remembers it as a foolish act. “…during the first days of my confinement, I behaved like all other fools who are thrown into prison.” He rebelled against the fate that the power imposed upon him. He “beat against the walls with my fists” but the “walls naturally remained mute” and the only outcome of this rebellion was that “I caused myself a sharp pain”. So, rebellion was meaningless and unnatural; he should have remained mute like the walls who seemed to know better the nature of things. He also refused to eat, which was a part of his rebellion, but in the end, “the persistent demands of my organism defeated my obstinacy.” Refusing to eat is unnatural, isn’t it? His conclusion therefore is that he should have submitted and silently accepted what befell on him, or rather what the power bestowed upon him. Don’t you think he is right?

His submission is to such extent that he claims therewas no injustice done to him although he repeatedly states throughout the story that he was totally innocent. His being found guilty was just “a fatal linking of circumstances, of grave and insignificant events, of vague silence and indefinite words”. He insistently refrains from accusing the power for his misfortune. He even avoids accusing the judges, who were agents of the power, in case he might provoke the anger of the power. The “honest and conscientious judges” were “perfectly right, perfectly right.” This repetition is either an assurance of, and insistence on, its being true, which the incredulous reader would not believe, or an attempt to force-persuade his conscience which may still retain a tendency toward truth, and to drown a last bit of suspicion. Either way, it tells us how dogmatically he sticks to his submission. He even finds it “inexplicable” that the head of the government should turn his death sentence to life in prison because normal people, “who can judge things and events only by their appearance”, would naturally expect him to be so punished.

having set aside entirely the question of truth and falsehood on generalprinciples, I subjected the facts and the words to numerous combinations, erecting structures, even as small children build various structures with their wooden blocks; and after persistent efforts I finally succeeded in finding a certain combination of facts which, though strong in principle, seemed so plausible that my actual innocence became perfectly clear, exactly and positively established.

This paragraph reminds me of “We are to gods likeflies to wanton boys; they kill us for their sport” – Shakespeare. Facts, which we base the whole structure of our lives and our thinking, are in fact, merely toys. His misfortune was brought about by the very facts which he, later in prison, twisted and turned, like children do with their toys, and proved his innocence with. The same facts, on the contrary, had been used to find him guilty. This is a discovery which he remembers with a “great feeling of astonishment, mingled with fear”. So, what was there for him but to submit when even the grounds on which he stood could be shaken at any time at the power’s will? That discovery, which he describes as a great one, only comparable to Newton and his apple, leads him to despair. Truth is what we conceive it to be, and often how we want to conceive it, because “the harmony between that which is seen and that which is conceived” is what we need. We like harmony, and do not refrain from sacrificing the truth for its sake. His reaction in the face of this discovery was “Where, then, is the truth? Where is the truth in this world of phantoms and falsehood?”, which he said in despair. Now, however, at the time when he is writing about it, which was an experience which he went through during the early years of his life in prison, he despises himself for it because it was against nature. He was young then, his mind was not force-shaped by the power. We do not criticize him for his reaction because it is quite normal. It is exactly what we would expect a man in his circumstances to do, a man who had a bright future but was suddenly thrown in prison having been found guilty of a monstrous crime which he had not committed, and who discovers that all this happened because the facts were not shaped in his favour so that their appearance should persuade the judges of his innocence. However, he is criticizing himself for so thinking because now, after so many years in prison, he has come to believe that what he discovered was the way of nature and therefore it must be submitted to, not rebelled against. It is ironic that the man who discovered the nature of truth, that truth is nothing more than a conception by the conceiver, should have a total belief in it. He knows that he is innocent and that this seems to be the real truth. But he says that his guilt was the inevitable conclusion to be reached by anyone. And because everyone, especially those who were responsible for finding truth behind the crime, came to that conclusion, he was guilty. He maintains that the verdict must be respected to. It is not that he has become too forgiving that he thinks the judges were justified; but it is that he believes they were right?

His submission is to such extent that he claims therewas no injustice done to him although he repeatedly states throughout the story that he was totally innocent. His being found guilty was just “a fatal linking of circumstances, of grave and insignificant events, of vague silence and indefinite words”. He insistently refrains from accusing the power for his misfortune. He even avoids accusing the judges, who were agents of the power, in case he might provoke the anger of the power. The “honest and conscientious judges” were “perfectly right, perfectly right.” This repetition is either an assurance of, and insistence on, its being true, which the incredulous reader would not believe, or an attempt to force-persuade his conscience which may still retain a tendency toward truth, and to drown a last bit of suspicion. Either way, it tells us how dogmatically he sticks to his submission. He even finds it “inexplicable” that the head of the government should turn his death sentence to life in prison because normal people, “who can judge things and events only by their appearance”, would naturally expect him to be so punished.

having set aside entirely the question of truth and falsehood on generalprinciples, I subjected the facts and the words to numerous combinations, erecting structures, even as small children build various structures with their wooden blocks; and after persistent efforts I finally succeeded in finding a certain combination of facts which, though strong in principle, seemed so plausible that my actual innocence became perfectly clear, exactly and positively established.

This paragraph reminds me of “We are to gods likeflies to wanton boys; they kill us for their sport” – Shakespeare. Facts, which we base the whole structure of our lives and our thinking, are in fact, merely toys. His misfortune was brought about by the very facts which he, later in prison, twisted and turned, like children do with their toys, and proved his innocence with. The same facts, on the contrary, had been used to find him guilty. This is a discovery which he remembers with a “great feeling of astonishment, mingled with fear”. So, what was there for him but to submit when even the grounds on which he stood could be shaken at any time at the power’s will? That discovery, which he describes as a great one, only comparable to Newton and his apple, leads him to despair. Truth is what we conceive it to be, and often how we want to conceive it, because “the harmony between that which is seen and that which is conceived” is what we need. We like harmony, and do not refrain from sacrificing the truth for its sake. His reaction in the face of this discovery was “Where, then, is the truth? Where is the truth in this world of phantoms and falsehood?”, which he said in despair. Now, however, at the time when he is writing about it, which was an experience which he went through during the early years of his life in prison, he despises himself for it because it was against nature. He was young then, his mind was not force-shaped by the power. We do not criticize him for his reaction because it is quite normal. It is exactly what we would expect a man in his circumstances to do, a man who had a bright future but was suddenly thrown in prison having been found guilty of a monstrous crime which he had not committed, and who discovers that all this happened because the facts were not shaped in his favour so that their appearance should persuade the judges of his innocence. However, he is criticizing himself for so thinking because now, after so many years in prison, he has come to believe that what he discovered was the way of nature and therefore it must be submitted to, not rebelled against. It is ironic that the man who discovered the nature of truth, that truth is nothing more than a conception by the conceiver, should have a total belief in it. He knows that he is innocent and that this seems to be the real truth. But he says that his guilt was the inevitable conclusion to be reached by anyone. And because everyone, especially those who were responsible for finding truth behind the crime, came to that conclusion, he was guilty. He maintains that the verdict must be respected to. It is not that he has become too forgiving that he thinks the judges were justified; but it is that he believes they were right:

I repeat, there was no error, nor could there be any error in a case inwhich a combination of definite circumstances inevitably lead a normally constructed and developed mind to the one and only conclusion.

Again, this is submission to the power. What “anormally constructed and developed mind” is led to is the truth; or rather, what the power chooses to lead it to. Therefore, he is not a “victim of judicial error” and refuses to be so considered and pitied. His “sense of respect for this truth” allows him to “live joyously and peacefully” his last years on earth. Should he choose not to submit and go mad as he did in his early years in prison?

After his imprisonment, he went through otherdifficulties, such as the marriage of his fiancée who had promised to be faithful to him for ever, death of his mother who “remained firmly convinced to the end of her days that I had committed the monstrous crime”, and the gradual betrayal of his friends who visited him more and more rarely and finally stopped it altogether. He encountered all these traumas in the way a man would normally do, thinking of them as “cruel manifestations of universal injustice” and uttering “a new stream of useless and sacrilegious curses”. But it was again in the early years of his imprisonment. Again the submission prevailed and he now considers the marriage of his unfaithful fiancée “wise and entirely in accordance with the demands of nature”, his mother’s death something natural, caused by “advanced age and a series of illnesses”, and his abandonment by his friends as an advantage “to fence around the mysteries of his soul from the stranger’s gaze”. He says he had been overwhelmed by each of these events because at that time he had not understood “the wise law of life, according to which neither friendship, nor love, nor even the tenderest attachment of sister and mother, is eternal”. His conclusions are all in line with his submission. As he clearly said before, he can “lead people [and himself] into error and thus deceive them” by telling the truth, and vice versa. He has developed this ability so that he could endure the injustice. Seeing that fighting the power that caused it was useless and was driving him to madness, he surrendered to it. He concluded, after living “sadly in my prison for five or six years”, that “man must subject himself to the laws of life” in order to survive.

We may suspect that the man surrendered too easily,that he didn’t have the will and courage to fight, that he gave up hope too early. However, throughout the story we are told how he struggled in the early years in prison, though he describes them as the endeavors of a “youthful and enthusiastic dreamer” now. He didn’t submit to the power so quickly. He even made serious plans of escape. Finding that a particular plan was useless, he shifted to another plan but these transitions were not without suffering. He compares these suffering to those of Prometheus who was tortured by the vulture. For Prometheus, the vulture was a reminder of his despair. For the man, the failure of each plan was like an attack from the vulture. With each failure, he was reminded of the hopelessness of his situation. Then, realizing the thickness of the walls, escape seemed impossible. Whether the walls were too thick to render an escape possible, or the man had become tired of trying further, we don’t know. But it is clear that, upon this understanding he felt relieved because until that time he had felt a kind of responsibility. It was the responsibility brought about by the respect that an innocent man had of himself who had been unjustly imprisoned. Now that he had tried all the ways to escape, which all proved impossible, he felt the relief of having carried out a responsibility. The “consciousness of the impossibility of my escape once for all extinguished also my painful alarm and liberated my mind”. Now he was free to engage his mind in “lofty contemplation and the joys of mathematics”, which was already thus inclined. We can’t fly but we never think of it as a problem and do not feel unhappy about it. The man has understood perfectly that wishing to live outside of the prison is like wishing to fly. Accordingly, he stops worrying about it. He has simply evolved from a man who lives outside to a man who lives in prison. As he had never thought of complaining about / rebelling against the power for not enabling him to fly when outside, now he stops his complaints and rebellion for having to live inside the prison. In this respect, his submission is so natural that it is a part of life. As we grow into adolescence our expectations from life evolve to suit the facts of our lives. As teenagers we dream of a rich life where we will have all that we want but no difficulties. Then, we gradually dream of less. As we become adults we are fully aware of what we can logically expect from life, and adjust our wishes and dreams accordingly. In other words, we submit. This is exactly what the man did. He stops hating the prison. Even he begins to admire it. This is why he describes the physical conditions of the prison in detail in chapter four, as if he was describing his castle. It has “a character of gloomy harmony, or stern beauty”. The interior of the prison also has harmony; it is “also finished harmoniously and properly constructed”. When explaining why “a fool who might make up his mind to run away from our prison” can’t possibly do it, he is clearly boasting of the strength of the building. It is so well-built that it “could withstand cannonading”. And even if that fool manages to come out into the yard, “what of the walls which encircle our prison with three rings of stone?”. In this question is imbued a secret feeling of pride and challenge. Also note that he calls the prison our prison twice in the same paragraph. Thus accepting himself to be a man of prison, he starts a new life, both for himself and for the prison. He makes some inventions, such as the little window on the doors of the cells in order to enable wardens to keep an eye on prisoners. He is so proud of this invention that he compares it to the inventions made by Kepler and Newton:

Yes, this simple and great invention belongs to me, just as Newton’s system belongs to Newton, and as Kepler’s laws of therevolution of the planets belong to Kepler.

That is another way of saying, “I am an inventor justas Newton and Kepler were, and this prison where I live is a world, just as Newton’s and Kepler’s world is”. These two men were inventors in the world where the man once belonged to. He is in a different world, the world of prison, which necessarily should have its own inventors and philosophers, at least one. The man is also the philosopher of this world. He is a useful member of its society and a respectable citizen. He loves this new world so much that he even begins to think it is better than the world outside:

A murderer will not break into my cell for the purpose of robbing me, amad automobile will not crush me, the illness of a child will not torture me, cruel treachery will not steal its way to me from the darkness. 

Isolation from the outer world, which is what makes imprisonmenta punishment, is also isolation from its dangers and worries. Although this is true, probably no other prisoner found relief in it. In fact, he is not a prisoner any more because prison is no longer a prison. It is a world with its own rules, its own people, and even its own inventors and philosophers.

The clear and rigid rules of our prison define everything that I mustnot do, thus freeing me from those unbearable hesitations, doubts, and errors with which practical life is filled.

It is a clean, disciplined, and secure world, and heis a distinguished citizen in it. That is all. Submission was necessary for all this to happen.

One day the has a queer friend in his prison, ArtistK. He is similar to the man in his youth. As the man was rebellious when he was first thrown into the prison, not submitting to the power but doing everything he could against the fate he was subjected to, the artist is madly striving to be what he is, asserting his own will and existence, rejecting having to draw his pictures on the same slate, even biting off his finger to stop himself from doing it, drawing pictures on the walls of his cell with his own blood. In a way, the experience of the artist who, unlike the man, did not submit, is an allegory. It tells us, and the man, what would happen to the man if he had not submitted to the power. Going away from the prison, as the artist did (by killing himself), is what he could have chosen to do when he was young. Instead, he chose a titanic struggle, as he describes it, “being tormented by the throes of despair, …. growing enfeebled by horror in the face of unsolved mysteries, …. striving to subject the world to my mind and my will”. Choosing the former and simply going away from the prison is so much easier and so much more attractive in comparison with the latter that even the man who has undertaken the titanic struggle and even developed a unique philosophy can’t help reconsidering his choice after so many years and so much experience. He even “prepared a noose made of my towel for the purpose of strangling myself”. At the last moment, however, he is held back by a simple monologue, Where am I going? I am going to death. But what is death? I do not know.

The artist K., however, submitted to death, choosingthe easier way. It may seem strange that he committed suicide shortly after he was persuaded by the man of the necessity to adjust himself to the conditions of the prison, that is, to submit. The long and hard struggle that he would have to go through as the man has done must have been revealed to him. Choosing to submit to death and not life, he killed himself.

The power, with all its capriciousness, finally leadsthe man out of prison, which he describes as “something altogether unexpected”, just as his being thrown into prison. Although what he finds outside of prison is favorably in contrast with what he had in prison, it is nevertheless a new life and requires a new submission. It is like moving from one country to another where one has to change his religion in order to survive. Initially, everything looks fine. On the first place, he is free. He can do what he likes, and go where he wants to; and the fortune that his mother left him is big enough to enable him to enjoy his freedom excessively. Moreover, he is met with interest and becomes very famous and is accepted into society as a respectable philosopher, whereupon he is called to deliver lectures. Therefore, he is also freed from the stain of guilt. It seems the power is making up for the injustice it heaped upon him many years ago. The man seems to think likewise: “justice is after all not an empty sound, and I am getting a great reward for my sufferings”. Following these words, however, he admits that he does not “feel the sense of contentment which I ….ought to feel”. Soon after his release, he begins to consider the life outside of prison “a continuous self-deception and falsehood”. He compares free people to a “stupid bird which is beating itself to exhaustion against the transparent glass obstacle, without understanding what it is that obstructs its way”. They are living in a glass prison, but unable to recognize the transparent bars, they consider themselves free. Whether he is right or wrong in these considerations is another matter but we understand that he is having great difficulty in getting used to the new life even though he has a privileged status in it in every way. One night, his servant unexpectedly opens the door of his room, which he had locked. He leaves it to us “to understand the horror I experienced at this unexpected visit” because it was indescribable. It seemed to him that “someone had entered my soul”. He is experiencing the same sort of difficulty that he did in the early days of his prison life. He had come over it then by submitting to the will of the power and adjusting and changing himself, which wasn’t as easy as it is said. Now, with a new life, completely different from the one he had had for years, he is expected to submit again. The power is trying him again. The omnipotent, omnipresent, mysterious and capricious power is making its presence felt again. It is asking for submission again and again.

Fools, we smile, without suspecting anything, when some murderous handis already lifted to attack us; we smile, and the very next instant we open our eyes wide with horror 

This is his reaction when “the charming stranger” whohas been attending his lectures turns out to be his former fiancée, which is another sinister surprise by the power. But he is now sixty years old and his “strength is beginning to fail me….. [He is] not of iron and my strength is beginning to fail me” (said twice in the same paragraph). At first he decides and pretends not to know her so as to avoid having to struggle with this new surprise: “Madam,….. I don’t know you. Perhaps you entered the wrong door”. But she keeps maintaining that she is his former fiancée. Her words are so terrible to him that “If the trumpet of the angel, announcing the day of judgment, had resounded at my very ear, I would not have been so frightened”. It was as if an abyss had opened before him. His perception of the world which he had laboriously constructed over the years, and on which he stood firmly is shattered altogether. It is ironic that all these scenes are suggestive of a happy ending. A man, unjustly accused of a monstrous crime and put in prison, is released after many years and he comes into great fortune, and meets the woman he loved. Then he lives happily ever after. No. His release, his fortune, and finally meeting with this woman are just new blows from the power, not the blessings or wonderful surprises of life. This time, however, he won’t submit because he can’t. He is not strong enough any more. When he was in prison, he could not get out. He didn’t have a choice. But now, when he is out, he can go back to prison, i.e., his old world, the one which he belongs to. Suddenly, leaving aside all the privileges of his life as a free man, he constructs for himself a prison and begins to live in there. He even hires a man as a warden whose duty is to restrict him just as a real warden does so that he will truly feel a home.

We are left in doubt concerning the truth of all thatthe man has said in the story. The man admits in the end that “at times I deceived you and lied”. Perhaps he was not innocent but maintained that he was so as to avoid judicial prosecution. Nevertheless the story as a whole depicts the life and its surprises, good or bad, and shows us how weak we are before the power that regulates it all. In the end, however, the man refuses to submit and in a way he is victorious over the power, although he appears to be a freak, just like a man who has won a long struggle but lost his mind in the process. In this respect, the title, The Man Who Found The Truth, is simply a mockery of human endeavor to find the truth.

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  • Evgeny Pasternak, the Russian literary critic and son of the Nobel-winning author Boris Pasternak, died in Moscow on...

  • RE: literary agent. ....but it may mean I have fighting chance of getting the book idea into print, with a decent advance

  • Or, rather: "Shakespeare the way it was meant to be played by a guy covering Steely Dan next to food carts."

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