Death’s Implications: Analyzing The Death of Ivan Illych
Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illych has proven to be a profoundly important work in the understanding of mortality. By adding to this understanding, Tolstoy implores readers to accept the ultimate reality that death is inevitable. If there is one thing Tolstoy makes quite clear, it is that nobody lives forever and death can be a horrifying, painful, and sobering experience. Ivan Illych, a successful man of the law, ends up fatally injuring himself whilst putting up curtains.
How could a successful lawyer at a firm who seems to have it all still suffer while having a strong disconnect with his family? In “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, he uses the protagonist Ivan as irony for the quote, “Bad things often happen to good people”. The novel describes how as a child Ivan was very smart, likeable, and funny and rarely ever got into trouble.
In Leo Tolstoy’s novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, readers are given a look into the life of a dying man contemplating his existence. Having lived his whole life in a society that acts as if death is not imminent, Ivan Ilyich is faced with a dilemma-- his life has been an unfulfilling constant effort of avoiding discomfort due to the social proprieties and conventions he is surrounded.
Leo Tolstoy, author of The Death of Ivan Ilyich, suffered numerous tragic losses such as his parents and his aunt, Tatyana Ergolsky who created a tremendous impact during Tolstoy’s childhood. Overtime, Tolstoy was cultured and for Tolstoy it was common within his community. During the 1840, Tolstoy developed a strong, eager interest for the studies of moral philosophy. In The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy suggests that although people can find happiness in materialism, they need spirituality during a crisis.
Tolstoy is a modern writer. His style plays with literary conventions while his writing questions society itself. However, towards the end of his life, Tolstoy notices the growing anti-materialism in the middle class (Ress). This increasing detachment of the Russian middle class from nature, life, and religious tradition irritates Tolstoy. By focusing his later works on anti-materialism, Tolstoy awakens the middle class to what he thinks it has become—deluded. To reveal this illusion, Tolstoy writes a religious, traditional ending to The Death of Ivan Ilych to illustrate the Russian middle class’s anti-materialism, and the New Testament’s Book of Luke helps us understand this connection between religion and anti-materialism best.
Professor R. Dickerson
17 November, 2013
For Leo Tolstoy’s character Ivan Ilych, death is an end to an empty life. It is not until after he gets a vague diagnosis of disease that he realizes his mortality. In this epiphany, he realizes that his relationships with his family, friends, and colleagues are all artificial, if not at least superficial. Because of this, he becomes depressed and wonders whether he really lived his live the right way. Ilych always treated his relationships in a very formal manner and, when he died, his so-called friends barely managed to pay their respects.
Ivan Ilyich, a decorous man with a life deemed perfect by society, gradually becomes aware of his life’s dark secrets, which cause him to feel excluded from his family and society. The tone is set by Tolstoy in the very beginning of the novella - as Ivan Ilyich’s colleagues receive the news of Ilyich’s death, the first thing they can think about is whom amongst them will receive a promotion. Moreover, at the funeral, Ilyich’s wife worriedly asks his colleague for some advice about her pension. These events foreshadow how “Ivan Ilyich’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible” (1427). Ilyich leads the life society tells him to lead, which first becomes clear before he decides to marry - “The marriage gave him personal satisfaction, and at the same time it was considered the right thing by the most highly placed of his associates” (pg. 1430). And even though he is disgusted with law, he considers it righteous and honorable when he see...
Dostoevsky’s noteworthy literary works each contain similarities in theme, character development, and purpose when analyzed beyond face value. Dostoevsky’s early life and ideals, intertwined with life-changing events that shifted his ideologies, and critiques of fellow Russian writers during his time period lay the groundwork for Dostoevsky’s recurring arguments for the way which Russian society would be best-off, as well as ways in which the people of Russia would be suited to live the most fulfilling, non-corrupt lives.
It is often remarkable to see the relation between events in an author?s life and that of his works. Many great authors have transcribed the pivotal moments of their existence onto paper for readers to enjoy, sympathize, or rage. Certainly, Fyodor (or Fedor) Dostoevsky, being no different than that of the very best of his profession, lived a life with experiences that influenced his writings a great deal. His masterpieces stand as ultimate manifestations of his tumultuous affair with pain, sorrow, anger, misery, for, each tells of dark worlds and conflicts with social status, money, or oneself. Overall, Dostoevsky?s past of living in constant torment with himself and his ideals transfers itself onto each page of his novel Crime and Punishment, indeed, difficult lessons he learned from his own mistakes jump out from the page at readers, as if he wants us also to learn something.
That thought was this: What if this was something beautiful that he had shut himself off from his whole life? What if they were wrong, the watchers? Maybe there was really nothing bad with this. Had he been mistaken his whole life? Until now, near the end’’. (39)