Get notes, solutions, summary, textual questions and answers, extras, MCQs, and pdf of the story (prose) ‘The Three Questions’ by Leo Tolstoy which is part of (West Bengal Board) WBCHSE Class 12 English syllabus. However, the notes should only be treated for references and changes should be made according to the needs of the students.
A king wonders what is the right time to begin things, who are the right people to listen to, and what is the most important thing to do. He believes if he knew the answers to these three questions, he would never fail at anything.
The king announces throughout his kingdom that he will reward anyone who can teach him the answers to these three questions. Many learned men come to the king with different answers. Some say to make a detailed schedule, others to always be attentive and do what’s most needed. Some say to have advisors, others say magicians who can predict the future. There are also disagreements over the most important people – councilors, priests, doctors, warriors? And the most important thing – science, warfare, worship?
Dissatisfied with the varied answers, the king decides to consult a renowned hermit who lives simply in the woods. The king dresses plainly and visits the hermit as he is digging in front of his hut. Despite the king’s questions, the hermit continues digging and does not answer. The king then offers to take over the digging for the frail hermit. After digging two beds, the king repeats his questions, but again the hermit does not answer.
As the sun begins to set and the king persists with his questions, a bearded man comes running from the woods, bleeding from a stomach wound. The king and hermit care for him, washing and binding his wound. After putting the wounded man to sleep, the king is so tired that he falls asleep too.
The man revives and reveals in the morning that he is the king’s enemy and wanted to kill him, but the king’s guards attacked him and he ran into the hermit’s place. The man pledges to serve the king faithfully because the king saved him.
In the morning, the king finds the hermit sowing seeds in the freshly dug beds. He asks the hermit once more for answers. The hermit explains if the king had not stayed to dig the beds, he would have been attacked by the man. So the most important time was when the king dug the beds, the most important man was the hermit, and the most important thing was to do the hermit good. Similarly, when caring for the wounded man, that became the most important time and person, and doing good the most important thing.
The hermit emphasizes the only time that matters is now, the most important person is the one you are with, and the most important thing is to do good.
Short answer type questions
1. What three important questions does the king want answered?
Answer: The king wants to know the right time for every action, the most necessary people to listen to, and how to know the most important thing to do.
2. Why does the king want to know the answers to these questions?
Answer: The king thinks that if he knew the best time to begin things, the most important people to consult, and what the most vital matters are, he would never fail at anything he tried to accomplish as king.
3. What does the king promise to anyone who can answer the three questions?
Answer: The king promises a great reward to anyone in his kingdom who can teach him the answers to his three pressing questions.
4. Why does the king get different answers to his questions from learned men?
Answer: The learned men all approach the questions from their different areas of expertise and perspectives, so they provide varied answers based on their own wisdom and life experiences. There is no consensus.
5. What are some of the different answers the learned men give to when is the right time for things?
Answer: Some advise making a detailed schedule of days, months and years in advance and following it strictly. Others say it’s impossible to decide the timing beforehand, rather one should focus on what’s needed in the moment. Some say the king should have advisors to help determine the right timing.
6. What are some of the different answers about what is the most important thing to do?
Answer: The learned men variously claim science, skill in warfare, and religious worship as most important, again reflecting their personal priorities and specialties.
7. Why doesn’t the king reward any of the learned men?
Answer: Because the learned men all provide different answers based on their own viewpoints, the king does not agree completely with any of them. He remains unsatisfied and does not reward them.
8. Who does the king decide to visit for answers to his questions?
Answer: After getting frustratingly contradictory answers from the learned men, the king decides to visit a renowned and supposedly wise hermit who lives simply in the woods, away from society.
9. How does the king change his appearance to visit the hermit?
Answer: The king puts on very plain, simple clothes instead of his royal attire. He also leaves his accompanying bodyguard behind so as to look like an average person rather than a monarch.
10. What is the hermit doing when the king first approaches him?
Answer: The hermit is digging the ground in front of his small hut when he first sees the king approaching.
11. How does the hermit respond when the king first asks his three questions?
Answer: When the king asks his three questions the first time, the hermit completely ignores the queries and continues digging in silence.
12. What does the king offer to do for the hermit as he continues digging?
Answer: Seeing that the frail hermit is struggling to dig, the king offers to take over the digging for him to give him a rest. This shows the king’s willingness to serve.
13. How does the hermit respond when the king asks his questions a second time?
Answer: Again the hermit does not answer the king’s persistent questions. He simply takes back the spade, asks the king to rest, and resumes digging on his own.
14. Who comes running out of the woods while they are talking?
Answer: While the king and hermit are interacting, a bearded, bloody man comes desperately running out of the woods, heading towards them.
15. What has happened to the bearded man who runs out of the woods?
Answer: The bearded man is gravely injured, with blood flowing from a large stomach wound he clutching with his hands as he stumbles into their presence.
16. How do the king and hermit help the injured bearded man?
Answer: The king washes and carefully binds the man’s terrible stomach wound. The hermit lets the man rest in his hut. Together the king and hermit compassionately save his life.
17. What does the bearded man reveal about his identity in the morning?
Answer: In the morning, the recovering man reveals that he is actually the sworn enemy of the king, intent on revenge against him because the king executed his brother but was saved by the kind king.
18. What pledge does the former enemy make to the king?
Answer: Deeply moved by the compassion shown to him, the former enemy sincerely pledges to serve the king faithfully from now on, and ensure his sons do too. His hatred is transformed.
19. Where is the hermit when the king asks him the questions a third time?
Answer: The king finds the hermit humbly sowing seeds in the freshly dug garden beds outside his hut the next morning.
20. How does the hermit say he has already answered the king’s questions?
Answer: The hermit explains he has already implicitly answered the king’s questions through the two moral situations with the digging and injured man.
21. What is the meaning of the hermit’s first answer about when the king was digging?
Answer: By having the king dig for him, the hermit shows the most important time was the present moment when the king helped him, and serving the hermit was the most important act.
22. What is the meaning of the hermit’s second answer about when the king was helping the man?
Answer: Helping the wounded man was the most urgent situation then. The man was the most important person at that time, and serving him was the right thing to do.
23. According to the hermit, when is the most important time?
Answer: The hermit declares the most significant time is always the present moment, or “now”, when one has the power to act meaningfully.
24. According to the hermit, who is the most important person?
Answer: The hermit says the most important person is whoever one is with at the time and has the opportunity to help or serve.
25. According to the hermit, what is the most important thing to do?
Answer: In both situations, the hermit highlights doing good for others is the most important thing, more so than worldly status.
26. What is the overall message or moral of the story?
Answer: The moral is that one should focus on each present moment, serve those around you, and do good without worrying about status, knowledge, or plans.
27. How does the king change or develop as a character throughout the story?
Answer: The king becomes more humble, gaining wisdom through real-life experience vs advisors. He learns to serve common people.
28. What aspects of wisdom or spirituality does the hermit represent?
Answer: The hermit humbly embodies patience, inner peace, living simply by need, acting with compassion, and seeking meaning over status.
29. How is the theme of service and doing good illustrated in the story?
Answer: The king serves the common hermit and enemy in need, showing service to others as more important than one’s status.
30. What role does compassion play in the story?
Answer: Compassion transforms the king’s enemy into a faithful servant and friend, highlighting its power to overcome hatred.
31. How are the ideas of enemies and revenge important in the story?
Answer: The king’s compassion and service to his sworn enemy represents overcoming hatred through doing good.
32. How does this story comment on the responsibilities of a king?
Answer: It suggests a good king should be more focused on serving his people through compassionate deeds rather than power or plans.
33. What does the king’s interaction with the hermit and bearded man show about status and humility?
Answer: The king humbling himself to sincerely serve the needs of a hermit and wounded enemy shows acting rightly is more important than status.
34. What does this story suggest about knowledge and education?
Answer: The tale implies true wisdom comes from humble life experiences and reflection rather than scholarly knowledge alone.
35. How does the story explore the idea of what matters most in life?
Answer: By contrasting the king’s theoretical questions with the hermit’s practical wisdom, it concludes relationships and serving others matter more than plans or power.
36. What important real-life lessons can we learn from this story?
Answer: We can learn to serve others without pride, practice compassion, live in the moment, do good deeds, and seek inner wisdom.
37. Why did the injured bearded man want to kill the king in the story “The Three Questions”?
Answer: The injured bearded man was actually the king’s sworn enemy. He wanted to kill the king out of revenge, because the king had previously executed the bearded man’s brother and seized his property. Seeking to get back at the king for this, the bearded man had set out to assassinate him but got injured along the way before he could enact his plan for revenge.
38. Who injured the bearded man in ‘The Three Questions’ and why?
Answer: The king’s bodyguards recognized the bearded man and wounded him. This occurred because the bearded man was seeking revenge against the king, so the bodyguards tried to stop his assassination attempt by injuring him.
Descriptive/analytical/long answer type questions
1. Describe the king, hermit, and injured man. What role does each character play in the story?
Answer: The king is the central character who initiates the narrative by posing three vital questions about how to live properly and rule well. Though he is powerful and used to obedience, the king evolves to become more humble and compassionate through his encounters with the hermit and injured man. In contrast, the hermit lives simply within nature, eschewing material goods and status. Through his understated words and deeds, the hermit acts as a mentor, guiding the king towards true wisdom. Lastly, the injured enemy illustrates the transformational power of compassion. When the king aids this man who aimed to kill him, it reflects how virtue can mend brokenness.
2. Why are the three questions so important to the king but difficult to answer?
Answer: The king believes that definitively knowing the ideal time, people, and actions would enable him to live and rule his kingdom flawlessly, without ever failing or making errors. However, the questions prove profoundly difficult to answer with certainty due to the ambiguous, subjective nature of such choices. Different people and situations necessitate different times, people, actions – there are no fixed answers that apply universally. The questions are important for self-improvement yet impossible to conclusively resolve.
3. Retell the key events when the king visits the hermit and meets the injured man. What do these events represent?
Answer: The pivotal events occur when the king first visits the hermit, where he humbles himself by laboring on the hermit’s behalf despite his royal status. This reflects how service is more important than prestige. Later, when the injured enemy appears and the king tends to him compassionately, it represents forgiveness and redemption – instead of resentment towards his foe, the king responds with virtue, mending their broken relationship. Together these key events symbolize living with purpose and meaning requires rising above worldly concerns like status or hatred to focus on compassionate action in the moment.
4. Explain the important lessons the hermit teaches the king. How does he teach the king?
Answer: Rather than didactic instruction, the hermit teachers through subtle example. By having the king work for him, then care for the man, the hermit conveys ideals of selfless service, living in the now, and compassion for all. In directing the king’s focus towards present moral action instead of abstract questions, he also shows that wisdom manifests in deeds, not words. Through these active demonstrations of service and virtue, the hermit slowly nurtures the king’s transformation from an egoistic, aloof ruler to one driven by purpose and goodness.
5. What is significant about the injured bearded man in the story?
Answer: This injured character turning out to be the vengeful enemy of the king carries huge symbolic significance. It reflects how service and doing good can overcome even hatred when rooted in sincere spiritual wisdom rather than egoism and anger. More broadly, the former foe represents broken human relationships, which can be mended through unconditional compassion.
6. Explain the three answers the hermit gives the king. What wisdom do they reveal?
Answer: In responding that the most crucial time is “now,” person is “who you are with” and action is “to do good,” the hermit conveys profound wisdom. He teaches living with presence, service and compassion creates meaning. His answers indicate one should not be preoccupied with plans, status or intellect, but rather focused on using each moment to selflessly help others. This approach leads to fulfillment and harmony with the world. The hermit simplifies notions of purpose and goodness.
7. What is the overall message or moral of the story? Use examples from the text.
Answer: Fundamentally, the story emphasizes virtue ethics – that crafting a meaningful, successful life is not about power, wealth or even knowledge alone. Rather, fulfillment stems from living with compassion, purpose and humility focused on the present. The king’s willingness to serve the hermit and enemy conveys how goodness outweighs status. And the transformed enemy shows that compassion can mend brokenness. Overall these lessons reveal moral action itself enables wisdom.
8. How does the hermit teach the idea of living in the present moment? Give evidence.
Answer: Both the hermit’s words and actions instruct about the primacy of the present moment. When the king asks about timing, the hermit responds the most crucial time is “now.” He then demonstrates this idea by having the king focus not on the abstract future but on the immediate needs at hand – digging for the hermit and aiding the injured man. Through both statement and example, the hermit conveys that being morally mindful in the present enables purposeful living.
9. What is the importance of compassion, service, and doing good in the story?
Answer: Compassion is shown as the force that redeems and transforms the king’s enemy into an ally. Humble service is depicted as more crucial than status when the king labors for the hermit. Good deeds are emphasized through these events as what imbues life with meaning. Each of these virtuous qualities contrasts with materialism, egotism and power, which the hermit subtly rejects, emphasizing moral character instead. Acts of compassion ultimately give the king the wisdom to rule justly.
10. How does the story distinguish true wisdom from status or knowledge? Give examples.
Answer: The learned men in the story represent vast knowledge and status but cannot find consensus on answers. Conversely, the lowly hermit guides the king through simple experiences, revealing wisdom comes from how one lives with compassion each day. The hermit’s actions speaking louder than words differentiates formal knowledge from practical wisdom. Serving freely provides insight that erudite scholars and nobles lacked, showing real understanding manifests in virtuous living itself.
11. Why is it significant that the bearded man turns out to be the king’s enemy? What does this show?
Answer: This revelation demonstrates that compassion has the capacity to overcome even entrenched hatred and harm. When the king helps heal his sworn enemy, this symbolic act of service catalyzes a deep change of heart in the foe, transforming him profoundly from a revenge-driven attacker to faithful servant. It powerfully conveys the redemptive potential of unconditional compassion and virtue to mend brokenness in even the most damaged relationships or people when rooted in spiritual wisdom.
12. What does the story say about a king’s responsibilities? Use quotes or examples.
Answer: The lessons learned from the hermit and through serving both the hermit and enemy convey that for a ruler, it is more crucial to humbly serve the people with compassion than to solely focus on power, status and plans. This is exemplified by the quote “Remember then: there is only one time that is important – and that is now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.” Here, importance is placed not on commanding power but rather virtuously using it each moment.
13. How does the story suggest hatred can be overcome through compassionate action?
Answer: The moral evolution of the enemy clearly demonstrates the transformative power of compassion for dissolving hatred. Whereas the man first sought to murder the king out of vengeance, by healing this enemy, the king’s act of unconditional compassion fundamentally transforms the man’s heart, leading him to renounce violence and pledge devotion. This vividly illustrates how unconditional compassion can overcome even ingrained prejudices through displaying the innate goodness in all people.
14. Describe how the king changes as a character. Give details.
Answer: At the outset the king is focused solely on power and knowledge that would maximize his status and success at ruling. However, through humble experiences of serving people’s needs with compassion in the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or future, he undergoes a gradual change of heart. The king transforms into a more enlightened leader defined by empathy, virtue and humble service to his people regardless of their station or past actions.
15. What does the story say about wisdom coming from life experience rather than book learning? Explain.
Answer: The learned men in the court cannot agree on answers to the king’s questions, demonstrating the limitations of academic knowledge alone to confer wisdom on how to live. In contrast, the simple hermit guides the king through direct moral experiences that catalyze his transformation. The story conveys true wisdom is cultivated by compassionately engaging with life’s struggles and opportunities in the present, not by detached intellectual study alone. Virtuous living itself teaches.
16. What makes this short story meaningful and enduring? Explain using the text.
Answer: This deceptively simple parable has resonated across cultures and eras because of its universal messages affirming the power of virtuous qualities like compassion, humility and purpose. As the hermit shows the preoccupied, powerful king, true wisdom and meaning manifest by sincerely serving others without regard for status. These profound lessons deeply touch the human spirit. By elegantly distilling timeless moral truths, this short tale reminds people what really matters, enriching lives across generations.
17. Compare the king’s original questions to the hermit’s answers. How and why do they differ?
Answer: The king focuses on conceptual concerns about ideal times, people and actions according to status-based calculations. His questions come from a place of self-interest. By contrast, the hermit’s answers underscore concrete moral principles – help who you can now, serve others, seek goodness. The hermit simplifies the complex questions by grounding them in universal compassion. His responses differ by deriving from spiritual wisdom rather than strategic concerns.
18. In your own words, explain the deeper meaning of the hermit’s three answers. Why are they still relevant?
Answer: To me, the hermit’s lessons fundamentally remind people to avoid overthinking how to live ideally, which breeds anxiety and inaction. Rather, we should simply strive to use each moment as it comes to help others and spread more love in the world. If we do good without egoism, including for people different than ourselves, outward status and knowledge become less important than moral character. These simple but profound insights on how to live with purpose and compassion remain deeply applicable today due to enduring social ailments like greed, hatred and close-mindedness. We all benefit by keeping the hermit’s wisdom in mind.
Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)
1. What does the king want to know in order to avoid failure?
A. The right time for every action B. The most necessary people to listen to C. The most important thing to do D. All of the above
Answer: D. All of the above
2. How does the king promise to reward anyone who can answer his questions?
A. With gold B. With jewels C. With land D. Unspecified great reward
Answer: D. Unspecified great reward
3. What do the varied responses of the learned men reveal?
A. Their ignorance B. Their stereotypes C. Their different perspectives D. Their desire to confuse
Answer: C. Their different perspectives
4. Why doesn’t the king reward any of the learned men?
A. Their answers dissatisfy him B. They want too much C. He distrusts them D. They refuse reward
Answer: A. Their answers dissatisfy him
5. How does the king disguise his identity to visit the hermit?
A. Servant’s robes B. Simple clothes C. Knight’s armor D. Hunter’s garb
Answer: B. Simple clothes
6. How does the hermit respond the first time the king asks his questions?
A. Ignores him B. Answers them C. Proposes his own riddles D. Asks for clarification
Answer: A. Ignores him
7. What does the king offer to do for the struggling hermit?
A. Dig for him B. Feed him C. Heal him D. Carry him
Answer: A. Dig for him
8. Who stumbles wounded and bleeding from the forest?
A. A peasant B. A holy man C. A bearded enemy D. A lost child
Answer: C. A bearded enemy
9. How did the bearded man get injured?
A. By accident B. Attacked by bandits C. Punishment for crime D. Seeking revenge
Answer: D. Seeking revenge
10. How does the king help care for the injured bearded man?
A. Gives him food and drink B. Dresses his wounds C. Lets him rest in the hut D. All of the above
Answer: D. All of the above
11. What does the bearded man vow to the king after being helped?
A. Reward B. Revenge C. Faithful service D. Future aid
Answer: C. Faithful service
12. Where is the hermit when the king asks his questions a third time?
A. Praying B. Fishing C. Gardening D. Reading
Answer: C. Gardening
13. How does the hermit say he has already answered the king’s questions?
A. Through riddles B. With gestures C. By demonstration D. With silence
Answer: C. By demonstration
14. What is the meaning of the hermit having the king dig?
A. Merits of hard work B. Necessity of preparation C. Importance of service D. Value of discipline
Answer: C. Importance of service
15. What is significant about the injured man’s identity?
A. He is the king’s brother B. He is the hermit’s son C. He is the king’s enemy D. He is a magician
Answer: C. He is the king’s enemy
16. What ultimate lesson does the hermit teach the king?
A. Power of knowledge B. Value of counselors C. Importance of compassion D. Wisdom of experience
Answer: C. Importance of compassion
17. According to the hermit, what is the most important time?
A. Future B. Past C. Present D. Depends on context
Answer: C. Present
18. According to the hermit, who is the most important person?
A. King B. Self C. Enemy D. Whoever you are with
Answer: D. Whoever you are with
19. According to the hermit what is most important to focus on?
A. Rules B. Knowledge C. Planning D. Doing good
Answer: D. Doing good
20. How does the story suggest hatred can be overcome?
A. Avoidance B. Dialogue C. Gentleness D. Compassionate action
Answer: D. Compassionate action
21. Which best describes the moral of the story?
A. Do your duty B. Seek wisdom C. Conquer enemies D. Serve others
Answer: D. Serve others
22. What is one key lesson the story teaches?
A. Listen to advisors B. Be quick to judge C. Avoid strangers D. Serve those in need
Answer: D. Serve those in need
23. Why does the king visit the hermit?
A. Seek spiritual guidance B. Seek the hermit’s wisdom C. Trick the hermit D. Hide from enemies
Answer: B. Seek the hermit’s wisdom
24. What prevents the advisors from agreeing on answers?
A. Greed B. Ignorance C. Different perspectives D. Defiance
Answer: C. Different perspectives
25. How do the king and hermit save the bearded man?
A. Bandage him B. Carry him to town C. Give him rest, food, care D. Use magic to heal him
Answer: C. Give him rest, food, care
26. What does the king’s care for his enemy show?
A. Superior medicine B. Political strategy C. Power of compassion D. Capriciousness
Answer: C. Power of compassion
27. What does the hermit say is the most crucial thing to do?
A. Make plans B. Seek health C. Do good D. Avoid harm
Answer: C. Do good
28. How does the hermit convey his lessons?
A. Speeches B. Riddles C. Parables D. Experiences
Answer: D. Experiences
29. What does the story suggest about knowledge?
A. Useless without action B. Must be pursued ceaselessly C. Less important than compassion D. Dangerous
Answer: C. Less important than compassion
30. How are compassion and wisdom connected in the story?
A. Wisdom leads to compassion B. Compassion is the essence of wisdom C. Neither produces the other D. Wisdom negates need for compassion
Answer: B. Compassion is the essence of wisdom
31. What do the hermit and enemy show the king?
A. Economic policy B. Battle strategy C. True purpose of power D. Flaws of monarchy
Answer: C. True purpose of power
32. What makes the story’s message timeless?
A. Exciting plot B. Rich details C. Relevant themes of virtue D. Historical setting
Answer: C. Relevant themes of virtue
33. Why did the bearded man want to kill the king?
A. For money B. For power C. For revenge D. By accident
Answer: C. For revenge
34. What did the king previously do to the bearded man’s brother?
A. Exiled him B. Imprisoned him C. Executed him D. Promoted him
Answer: C. Executed him
35. Who injured the bearded man?
A. The king B. Bandits C. The hermit D. The king’s bodyguards
Answer: D. The king’s bodyguards
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