Leo Tolstoy's The Death Of Ivan Ilyich

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In the novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy displays the introspection on the metaphysical meaning of life as the protagonist Ivan Ilyich becomes mentally preoccupied with his impending death. By reversing the chronology of death and encapsulating moral messages centering around the protagonist’s dying experience, Tolstoy emphasizes the importance of confronting death to achieve a meaningful life free of societal ideals. Despite criticizing a society permeated with self-deception and hypocrisies, the writer portrays possibilities of redeeming oneself to live a meaningful life nonetheless. Thus, Tolstoy advocates for authentic human relationships through the juxtaposition of Gerasim’s truthfulness with proprieties followed by others.…show more content…
Ivan falling off a ladder symbolizes the first sign of disintegration of his bubble of falsity. His materialistic desires contribute to his deteriorating health since he injures himself when deciding between having “straight or festooned” (57) curtains. Ivan’s trivial concerns about interior decoration is a reflection of men’s obsession with societal aesthetic standards and status. Ironically, Tolstoy exposes the lack of uniqueness of Ivan’s house due to like-minded, pretentious people striving to do the same. Ivan has been average since birth; he is the middle son with a blend of personality in “between the two [elder and younger brothers]” (47). Therefore, conformity molds Ivan to become even more “ordinary” (47) as he loses his personal identity to “resemble all people of a certain kind” (57). Juxtaposed by Ivan’s frustration that losing his life over the curtain is “terrible and stupid”(72), Tolstoy presents materialism as a false sense of fulfilment. This is because recollections of Ivan’s childhood are his only fulfilling, pleasant memories. The writer uses free indirect discourse to describe the “special taste” of Ivan’s “raw, shriveled French prunes”, decreasing the use of a third-person omniscient voice as Ivan reflects deeper about a life lack of authenticity. Zooming into Ivan’s point of view blurs the line between…show more content…
“Not burdened by [Ivan’s] trouble” (76), Tolstoy starkly contrasts Gerasim’s sincerity with Ivan’s daughter Liza’s resentment of Ivan’s suffering since it “interfered with her happiness” (81). The ability to empathize and concern oneself with others’ affairs is suppressed by Liza and the others’ self-absorption. Ivan in his earlier days is able to separate personal and official relations, “excluding all that was raw, vital” (58), “like a virtuoso” (58). Tolstoy’s matter-of-fact tone when stating factual information that “two of the children died” (53) further supports Ivan’s lack of compassion in his earlier days. It is his intimate encounters with death that prompt him to yearn for human relationships, making him more receptive towards Gerasim’s genuine feelings. Tolstoy repeatedly uses “pity” in chapter 7 and 8 to lend verisimilitude to Gerasim and Ivan’s relationship, which has now developed into a meaningful and authentic connection. In contrast to Praskovya inviting a doctor and ironically labelling the act as “doing it for [her]self” (80), Gerasim “simply pitied his emaciated, weakened master” (76). Being a recipient of Gerasim’s sincere pity allows Ivan to pity others. He was now able to express empathy on his deathbed, feeling “sorry” (91) and asking for forgiveness from his family having to endure his sufferings. Thus, his
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