Meaning Of Life In The Death Of Ivan Ilyich

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One of the most plaguing blessings of humanity is its ability and necessity to understand the nature of the universe. Despite the best efforts of mankind’s brightest over the course of 7,000 years, the answer to the question, “what is the meaning of life?,” continues to remain a mystery. The debate endlessly evolves from era to era without anyone making great strides toward a real answer. Philosophers who have contemplated this question have only shifted perspectives around possible conclusions by making assertions and adhering to them. Leo Tolstoy and Albert Camus view existence from a religious and secular standpoint, respectively, making their ideologies radically different yet comparable on a relative scale. While their perspectives conflict …show more content…

Tolstoy lived in protestant Russia during sociopolitical events that resulted in a consumerist middle class. Much like the earlier philosopher Henry David Thoreau, Tolstoy rejected materialistic desires. Throughout The Death of Ivan Ilyich, he emphasizes that Ivan’s physical possessions mean little to the character as he approaches his ever nearing death. This anti-materialist sentiment evolved from Tolstoy’s radical brand of Christianity. After several months of suffering in Tolstoy’s work, Ivan finally experiences genuine hope and solace after receiving communion; anger follows the short glimmer of happiness when he realizes that everything else that he had lived for means nothing (Tolstoy 214-15). The lack of grief and genuine emotion written into most of the characters in the piece also provides some social commentary from Tolstoy on social formalities versus human compassion. Through the juxtaposition of the servant Gerasim with most of the other characters, Tolstoy writes that actions from one’s heart have value and meaning; the individual dictates his/her own meaning through free will and personal desires, not society. From an overarching perspective, Tolstoy adhered to a Christian derivative of …show more content…

Camus poses a summary of his philosophy in another work of his known as The Myth of Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, Zeus punishes Sisyphus by tasking him with the impossible task of rolling an enchanted boulder up a hill. No matter how close Sisyphus came to succeeding in his goal, the boulder would roll back down the hill. The story serves as a metaphor for the futility of all of humanity’s effort in attempting to understand the incomprehensible. Nonetheless, Camus commends Sisyphus’s endeavor to succeed in the impossible; the search for meaning will not provide answers but is noble and meaningful intrinsically. Camus outlines this argument in The Stranger through the nihilistic anti-hero Meursault. Throughout the novel, Meursault exhibits very little emotion, which only filters into the protagonist’s stream of consciousness when he expresses physical discomfort or social frustration. The detachment from the world around him makes him a case study for one’s personal quest to find his/her own purpose. Camus’s secular approach deviated from contemporary understanding and challenged the existentialist and religious ideologies that preceded

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