Hum 205

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Tolstoy who is the writer of the book “The Death of Ivan IIyich” did an amazing job portraying the human existence as a conflict between the inner and the outer; the spiritual life and the physical life in both the false and genuine life, and everything becomes vanity and a pursuit after the wind. Leo Tolstoy depicted Ivan as being shallow and thoughtless in his “agreeable, easy, and correct” life. Ivan blindly adopts the beliefs and values of an aristocratic society and exhibit a behavior to their rules. As Ivan accustoms himself to propriety, he grows increasingly intolerant to everything that threatens his own comfort and material well-being. He places a high standard on his official duty and does not allow his personal life mix together with his official duty while in his private life he adopts a deterrent attitude towards his family. Also, he exhibits a fear of death as he questioned the need to die when everything to him is done right he later accept the reality of death according to Tolstoy when he realized he had not lived a life he ought to have lived. Ivan’s illness reveals to him the true nature of life.

Moreover for the longer time of his life, Ivan beliefs that he is a good human; he does not absolutely show any indication of any spiritual life in his physical being. How is one to make sense of the end of one’s life, of one’s relationships, projects, and dreams, of one’s very existence; Tolstoy makes clear that preparation for death begins with a proper attitude toward life for death is inevitable for everyone. Ivan lives for the good of his own flesh and relates only with those who promote his desires. Ivan supposes that his existence is the right one, and he rejects to see the mistake of his life. As a consequence of denying the spiritual life, Ivan is not capable of outdoing the physical life. As he holds on to the belief; he experiences agonizing pain, real fear and overwhelming discontent.

To start with, the agonizing pain that Ivan went through was because he refused to see that death is inevitable to all not even the ones that claimed to have lived a good and pleasant life. The avoidance of death that characterizes Ivan’s social life is based on a delusion designed to protect people from unpleasant realities. It leads only to emptiness, horror, and dissatisfaction. An acceptance of death, however and recognition of the true unpredictable nature of life allows for confidence, peace, and even joy at the moment of death. However, when the view of his death compels Ivan to deal with his isolation, he steadily begins to realize the importance of the spiritual life. It is then he moves past suffering, overcomes death and experiences intense joy.

Also fear got the most of Ivan this is not to say that death is given trivial shift in the story. Indeed, one could say that no more vivid, harrowing, and moving account of dying has ever been written. One is not spared any of the physical and emotional traumas of a wasting illness: a floating kidney, according to the doctors, the story warns against putting too much faith in the medical profession. No amount of medication and sedation could heal Ivan; the effects of the medicines were just for a while. Here is Tolstoy the realist with his matchless eye for physical and psychological detail: the wife’s bad breath, the bowel movements, the numerous but futile tricks with which Ivan tries to convince himself that he is getting better, but most of all the pain, incessant and remorseless. Ivan screams for three days before his death.


All through his illness, Ivan snapped back and forth between accepting and denying his imminent death as well as accepting and denying that he has not lived realistically. Unfortunately, those around him his wife, doctors, and friends, flee in the face of death. They do not accept Ivan’s inevitable end, and they encourage his denial. Ivan begins to see his own so call genuineness, and he can see it clearly in others: “Nothing did so much to poison the last days of Ivan’s life as this falseness in himself and those around him” (Tolstoy 105). Only the servant Gerasim, and later Ivan’s son Vasya, openly and honestly accept Ivan’s fatal condition. Gerasim and Ivan’s son are able to give the dying man love and through experiencing this, he realizes that love is what he must give back. As a result of Gerasim’s devotion, Ivan Ilych becomes capable of extending compassion to his wife and son.

In reflecting on his situation, it finally occurs to Ivan that his life, as he had lived it, might not have been the best possible kind of life. “What if my entire life, my entire conscious life,    simply was not the real thing?” (Tolstoy 126)

Ivan’s wife and daughter appear to him as part of the life he had led, which was simply not the real thing. In them he saw himself, all he had lived by so clearly that all this was not the real thing but a dreadful, enormous deception that shut out both life and death. A man like Ivan, who during his life had no real contact with his closest relatives and was so alienated from nature that he could place no trust in it, had to experience his separateness in full measure. This same loneliness made him while dying want to weep. Ivan Ilyich is callously treated after his death because that was the attitude which he showed others. It is not until his last days that he is forced to think about his life with an urgency which colors every conscious minute due to the proximity of death. It is within this context that Ivan ascertains that he most definitely did not live his life as he should have and gets the sensation one sometimes experiences in a railway carriage when one thinks one is going backwards while one is really going forwards and suddenly becomes aware of the real direction.

It was love that Ivan Ilyich experienced after the realization of his guilt and the purification of his soul, and it was this love that enabled him to face death without fear. His pity for his family was part of his new relation to people – free of egotism and selfishness. Ivan painful experience is over; his dead face does not express any pity for those who survive him, but a reproach and a warning.

Nevertheless, Tolstoy incorporates several patterns of reversal into the structure of the novel. The actual death of Ivan Ilych, the chronological end of the story, occurs in the first chapter. The remainder of the novel is devoted not to Ivan and apos; s death as the title seems to indicate, but to his life.

Finally, Tolstoy reverses the very concepts of life and death. During his early life, when Ivan seems to be growing in strength, freedom, and status, he is actually being reduced to darkness, bondage and isolation. An interesting if not readily apparent motif is the contraction of time and space. The contraction is an important factor in the theme of the inner life versus the outer life because it highlights the significance of the spiritual and reinforces the notion that life is not limited to the time between birth and death.

Tolstoy accomplishes this effect in several ways. The first four chapters of the novel covers more than forty years, the second four chapters span several months, and the final four chapters span only slightly more than four weeks



Works Cited 4 May 2018.

Lev Nikolayevieh, Tolstoy. The Death of Ivan llyich. Pennsylvania state university: Jim Manis, 1998-2013. eBook collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 01 October. 2016.

Vannatta, Dennis. “The Death of Ivan Ilyich: Overview.” Reference Guide to Short Fiction, edited by