‘Evil Allures, But Good Endures’ by Leo Tolstoy: Short Story Analysis
‘Evil Allures but Good Endures’ is a parabolic short story with a highly Christian ethical theme published in February 1886 by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. Leo Tolstoy was also known as Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy and is the greatest Russian writer of the nineteenth century. I have analyzed many of his parabolic short stories, which you can check out here. Like all the short stories that Tolstoy wrote after his moral and spiritual crisis in the 1870s, ‘Evil Allures, But Good Endures’ also centers on the ethical Christian value or virtue practiced by Lord Jesus, which is primarily the virtue of forgiveness. This short story also brings out several other Christian and Biblical elements, which I shall discuss as the analysis progresses. However, it is important to note that through these parabolic short stories, Leo Tolstoy wanted to bring out the very core ethic of Christian living and the way to lead a life rooted in the teachings of Lord Jesus, which are primarily found in the Gospels. Note that this short story is sometimes published with the title ‘Evil Allures, But God Endures’, which directly indicates the presence of the dual antagonistic elements of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and in Leo Tolstoy’s philosophy and theology, ‘good’ is always representative of ‘God’ while ‘evil’ is representative of the ‘devil’.
When one reads the story ‘Evil Allures, But Good Endures’, it is hard not to stumble upon the many Biblical and Gospel elements in the text. We notice that this story concerning the slaves ruled by a good and kind master is something like Lord Jesus’ parables concerning benevolent masters who either gave his slaves tasks or gave them love which was either received in turn with love or with evil. Just like God the Father forgives the Christian people because of the redemption we have received through his Son, Lord Jesus Christ, these slaves though sinful in one way or another, are saved in turn. Evil, as it were, tries to rule them, but the forgiveness of God is greater than the sin of man and the wickedness of the Devil.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.—1 Corinthians: 1: 25
We find tales of ‘slaves’ with a ‘benevolent Master’ many times in Lord Jesus’s parables, which is the central core of Leo Tolstoy’s ethical tenets. However, this ideology is not like the Gnostic and Theosophical way of understanding the Gospel. For more on this, you can start by reading the Gnostic book The Secret History of the Gnostics by Andrew Phillip Smith. You can read my review of the book here. However, in this short story, even though the slaves doubt their Master through the deception of the evil slave Aleb, it is Aleb who tries his Master by breaking the hind leg of the best ram in the flock. Here, the ram with the twisted horns, of course, is symbolic of the Lord Jesus who had to be raised on the cross and die for the redemption of man’s sins, just like the Prophet Moses raised the bronze snake staff in the desert to save the Hebrews from death by vipers. The Master represents God the Father, and Aleb is sinful humanity trying to deceive God’s people, the other slaves leading them to doubt their God and his forgiving nature.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.—John 3: 14-15
Aleb breaks the left hind leg of the ram while the Devil, his Master, watches him gleefully as he sits high up in the branches of a tree. This is highly indicative of the Devil or Satan’s serpent-like form as depicted in the Bible in the book of Genesis. A serpent, in this sense, was not precisely a snake but something definitive and monstrous dealing with a hideous being who is the evil one. Notice that like the Serpent in the book of Genesis, the Devil in this story tries to tempt Aleb but cannot do more because, as Leo Tolstoy wants to depict, he is not as powerful a being as God.
In this short story titled ‘Evil Allures, But Good Endures’, evil tried to allure or tempt the slaves to distrust the love of their Master. However, the Devil and Aleb are foiled in this endeavor. They are foiled by the power of love and the authority of forgiveness vested in the Christians’ God. Aleb tries to bet with the slaves concerning the benevolence of their Master. Themes of bets are pretty common in Russian literature. One such story based solely on a ‘bet’ is Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Bet’, which you can check out here. In ‘Evil Allures, But Good Endures’, the other slaves bet their Holiday Garments to Aleb in case they lost. This is indicative of them losing their birthright as future descendants of their Master; they are selling their birthright to Aleb.
However, Aleb loses the bet, and the Master, though angered by the harm done to his favorite and unique ram with the twisted horns, takes as it were heavenly succor, and through that succor has the power to forgive Aleb. And forgiving anyone who has hurt us is a central Christian tenet, which is the crux of the religious life taught by Christ. Obviously, the benevolent and kind Master, by forgiving Aleb and ‘turning the other cheek’, destroys Aleb through kindness and destroys the Devil, who sinks back to his place in hell at the end of the story.
Aleb tries very much at the beginning of this short story to tempt the slaves towards a skewed way of thinking and analyzing the dogma of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. He makes two very prominent points of argument that probably would be the same arguments anyone may advance even today:
- Why should one be good to the Master who will then be kind to us when one can be good to the Devil, and he would be kind as well to you.
- When we do everything that our Master dictates, then he will be good to us in turn. Aleb claimed what was so odd in that. The Master can do nothing else but be kind to us for our goodness towards him. If one would do evil unto him, he would not forgive but turn upon the slaves.
The last point is very prominent in the Old Testament of the Bible. Leo Tolstoy wants to bring out Christian ethics. He shows that though God or the Master could get angry, he is stopped from doing so by the hand of His Son or Sacrificial Ram or Lord Jesus. The Master, like God, is grieved by the sin of Aleb and humankind, respectively, for their evil ways. But he shrugs off the burden of being angry and replaces it with forgiveness and love. This could also mean that the Master showed a tendency not to be proud of his possessions like he was of the two-horned twisted ram. He wanted to show off the ram to his visitors but was made a mockery in their eyes because of Aleb. Despite the outcome being very apparent in this short story titled ‘Evil Allures, But Good Endures’, it is still a very timely and evergreen story to read to remind one of the powers of forgiveness. Humans, as it were, have only done evil to God’s precious ram, but He, in His grace and benevolence, has not only given us our birthright as people of his kingdom but also our freedom from previous and present sins.
As you may have noticed, there are many Biblical layers to this short story that one can peel off and analyze like one peels off an onion layer. However, this is the richness of Leo Tolstoy’s prose. We are not told what becomes of Aleb. We presume that he was granted forgiveness and, in fact, lost his holiday garment again because he had a bet with the other slaves regarding the garment. He, however, gets his freedom which the others though being true to God or the Master, do not get. Paradoxically, Aleb is given freedom who sinned terribly, while the other slaves who only doubted are to remain in bondage. However, such paradoxes are the epitome of Lord Jesus’ teachings that no one can rationally explain. It is the main part of Christian Theology and Biblical Sciences that someone else sows while another reaps.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing this short story penned by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. I have his entire collection in my office-cum-writing hut. I live in the company of 32,000 books as part of my library. I am a recluse and a bookish introvert. If you want to know more about my life, you can check out my memoir Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai on my blog’s products page. If you would like to read a shorter memoir about my life in books and with books, you can check out my book titled The Reclusive Writer & Reader of Bandra here. I hope to read and analyze more of Leo Tolstoy’s short stories soon. I have a great fascination for Russian writers.
If you are interested in more book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in buying my books, you can check out my blog’s products page. There is a lot of good stuff to buy! Happy reading to you always!
Copyright © 2021 Fiza Pathan