28 pages 56 minutes read

Leo Tolstoy

What Men Live By

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1885

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Character Analysis

Michael

The action of the story centers around Michael and his journey back to God. His otherworldly and ethereal characteristics become increasingly pronounced as the story progresses, culminating in the reveal of his holy origins. An angel, who even in human form could see “the spirit of death” and “the presence of God” (Part 11, paragraph 1) within people, Michael is representative of the divine and awesome power of God.

His presence as a symbol of God’s will supports the major themes of the story, allowing selflessness to both occur and be rewarded while also impressing upon readers the mysterious nature of God’s plan. Appearing seemingly from nowhere and deeply in need, good deeds toward him are rewarded, and his presence and assistance propel Simon and his family into prosperity. He possesses uncanny knowledge, predicting deaths and recognizing people he has presumably never met. The reveal of his origins and true power at the end of the tale act as both climax and conclusion, his presence on Earth being the story’s driving force. The story’s parable structure allows this ending to reinforce the religious message, placing the holy and divine behind the narrative’s progression.

Michael further presides over these moral and psychological themes as a direct connection to the divine, proving that God is concerned with and has plans for everyone.

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