The Death of Ivan Ilych
The False Life of Ivan Ilyich
What would be your reaction if you live an entire life with false friends and a false wife? This is the reality of the bourgeoisie represented in the story, they are oppressive, self-interest, egotistical, distanced from their family, superficial and shallow. Ivan was like this, but in the final, he discovers how to live better, improve his defects and live the end of a life well.
At the beginning of the text, we see the futility of Ivan before society, friends, and wife. ‘Each one thought or felt: Well, he’s dead but I’m alive!”. This stretch shows us that the society does not care to Ivan’s death, it is just a daily incident, they just care to themselves, and for power, once they see in Ivan’s death an opportunity to get his job. “Praskovya Fedorovna recognizing Peter Ivanovich sighed, went close up to him, took his hand, and said: ‘I know you were a true friend to Ivan Ilyich…’ and looked at him awaiting some suitable response.” Now, we see they two are just acting out because both of them do not like Ivan, they just want power and status. Peter was happy with his death, because the job of judge was empty, and his wife does not like him. ‘Oh, terribly! He screamed unceasingly, not for minutes but for hours. For the last three days he screamed incessantly. It was unendurable. I cannot understand how I bore it; you could hear him three rooms off. Oh, what I have suffered!’ Praskovya Fedorovna does not love her partner, rather than helps her husband when he was suffering, she just stays away because he screams of pain were “unendurable”. It shows us, again, how the bourgeois society does not have feelings and are shallow. By these parts from the text, we see the real face of the bourgeoisie and how nobody cares to him and his life.
In the course of the text, the reader knows how bad Ivan was. ‘Praskovya Fedorovna came of a good family, was not bad looking, and had some little property. Ivan Ilyich might have aspired to a more brilliant match, but even this was good.” Ivan chooses his wife by the status, he did not ever love her, just married with Praskovya because she was from a good family, had some little property, etc. His decisions in life are exactly the bourgeois way of life (do not care for feelings and other persons, they just care to themselves and to status, financial gain). “But this discomfort increased and, though not exactly painful, grew into a sense of pressure in his side accompanied by ill humor. And his irritability became worse and worse and began to mar the agreeable, easy, and correct life that had established itself in the Golovin family. Quarrels between husband and wife became more and more frequent, and soon the ease and amenity disappeared and even the decorum was barely maintained.” Ivan was not prepared for his disease, he was not prepared for die, so, when it starts to begin in his life, he got desperate. For him, ‘Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal,’ had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself.” He was really desperate when death comes near. “Ivan Ilyich saw that he was dying, and he was in continual despair.” This stretch just confirms what we have seen in the previous chapter, Ivan desperate with death and it affects all the people around him, his wife, friends, etc. So, he was not prepared for an illness and death, but he needs to improve this and learn to deal with it.
In the other hand, not everyone is evil and selfishness, one example of this is Gerasim, his servant, is the only that cares for him, he has compassion for his boss and really cares him. ‘It’s God will. We shall all come to it someday,’ said Gerasim. Gerasim, his serve, is the only person that told him the true, because everybody, his friends, his wife, were lying and saying that, if he takes care, he will live, but Gerasim was the only person that said that he gonna die, everybody gonna die and he is not the exception. “Gerasim was a clean, fresh peasant lad, grown stout on town food and always cheerful and bright. At first the sight of him, in his clean Russian peasant costume, engaged on that disgusting task embarrassed Ivan Ilyich.” It shows us that he was sheer, he was not a rich and bourgeois guy, he did not want status, power, and money, like Ivan. He represents the proletarian in the text, because he is a worker, an honest guy, that has compassion, empathy and cares for the others, his relationships are real, not like Ivan’s and bourgeois relationships. “His son had always seemed pathetic to him, and now it was dreadful to see the boy’s frightened look of pity. It seemed to Ivan Ilyich that Vasya was the only one besides Gerasim who understood and pitied him.
They all sat down and again asked how he was.” Now, Ivan finally improves his defect, his selfishness, and learn to have feelings, to love the others and does not care just for him.
Summing up, the society does not care to Ivan’s ill and the society, like him, cares to the power, the money, the status, as every bourgeois. But, Gerasim is honest and good, and then, Ivan can see how to live better, without his false friend and his false wife, and finally feels the love, from his son, Vladimir.
The Superficiality of Bourgeois Relationships in the Death of Ivan Ilyich
To quote Norman Cousins, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” Ivan Ilyich discovers at the end of his life that he is surrounded by a lot of false friends and family, who do not think about his health. The novella written by Leo Tolstoy presents to us in a strong and reinforced way the superficiality of bourgeois relationships by using the omniscient point of view to describe the respective characters.
One of the main characters in the novella is Peter. Peter is a bourgeois that studied with Ivan when they were younger, and for Ivan, he was his best friend and a person that he trusts and respects a lot during his life, but as a famous phrase shows us, “Fake friends are like shadows. They follow you in the sun but leave you in the dark.”. Peter was not like Ivan thought, Peter was a fake friend that was just interested in his money and status and in Ivan’s darkness days he was not present.
In the first chapter of our novella, we can know how that Peter acts as he cares about Ivan’s death and like he is preoccupied but he wasn’t, he was thinking about the advantages that he can get with the event, and that attitude is evident in the first paragraphs, when he is telling his boss about Ivan’s death
Looking at the previous example, we can see how false was Peter and he wasn’t a friend that people want to have. Another example is how selfish he was with Ivan and this shows us more what is a good friend. Isn’t everybody that is a good friend to you, you need to choose the real ones and Peter is the one we need to avoid, because he only thinks in his benefits, like, when Ivan die, his brother-in-law can take Ivan’s job and then his wife will be happy with him. We can perceive this falseness in a lot of fragments.
A sample to finish showing a little of what Peter did is about the ‘’sacrifice’’ that he needed to do when Ivan die and doesn’t want to the funeral because for him it was a waste of time inasmuch as he wasn’t really feeling bad because of Ivan’s death. We can behold this attitude in the following excerpt: ‘’Having told his wife at dinnertime of Ivan Ilyich’s death, and of his conjecture that it might be possible to get her brother transferred to their circuit, Peter Ivanovich sacrificed his usual nap, put on his evening clothes and drove to Ivan Ilyich’s house.’’
Looking at all the examples before, we can infer that Ivan’s life isn’t really good, because the person that he considers his best friend was false and selfish. We all know that Ivan it wasn’t the perfect person and he commits a lot of mistakes with his family but we deserve just one person to trust and the person that he like a lot just think in himself, and with that, we can perceive that Ivan suffers all he did.
Another important character in the story is Praskovya Fedorovna, Ivan’s wife. Praskovya is a really essential character for the text, being another example of how unfortunate was Ivan’s life because his own wife didn’t like him and just care about his money and the fortune that she will get after his death, like Peter. Other people that we will see are his children. His son was a really kind person that cares about his father and stayed with him until his death but his daughter was not like that, he was ready to get married and because her father gets sick she needed to suspend it.
Ivan wasn’t a present father and husband, he just cared about his job and his own life and because of this selfishness his wife started to hate him more and more and she thought that everything bad that happens in her life was because of him, even the more simple things and that is why Praskovya wasn’t sad because of Ivan’s death, she was the opposite and for her, when he dies she will be free and she will get all the money that he worked to have. One example that explains clearly about how Praskovya hates Ivan is when he was about to die she tried to show the doctor that she was really kind and that she was a good wife, she kisses him, but she never did this before so we can see that this is just to show other people another reality.
The other two characters that help us to see the reality of Ivan’s life is his son and his daughter. His son, Vladmir is Ivan’s youngest sibling and we can show that he is really kind with the father that is very bad and with a very difficult illness, so the son is very concern and preoccupied about his father future. This may happen because he is too young to understand about the things but he was not like the other bourgeois and at the end of Ivan’s life, Ivan felt sorry about Vladimir and he saw how important his son is for him and he felt sorry because of all he did wrong.
Looking to the last paragraph, we can see a hope in a lot of falseness of the bourgeois, we can see that Vasya, Ivan’s child isn’t like the others and he cares about his father feelings and he expresses his feelings in the text, the feelings of a person that isn’t like all around him.
To show another reality, without falseness and selfishness and to see that wasn’t all Ivan’s life that was like that, Gerasim, his servant wasn’t like the other and he wasn’t part of the bourgeoisie, representing a different person in the middle of the others, the salvation.
Gerasim, is a good guy comparing to the others and we can see this since the start of the story that he is different from the other because he isn’t bourgeois, he is proletarian (the middle class) and those type of people work for the bourgeois and he was better than the others because he was one of the few people that really care about Ivan’s health and about how Ivan was feeling. In the start of the text, when Ivan still a bad person that doesn’t care about the other and only for himself and his own job, Gerasim used to do everything to him and to Ivan feel better, but when Ivan feels that he will die, he started to be a better person and to be kind with Gerasim, and then he understands how important he and the other people are in his life, like in the continuation of the last paragraph, he said to Gerasim that Gerasim didn’t need to do everything to him anymore and then Ivan show Gerasim that he changed a lot. Gerasim, after all, that Ivan did to him he was still kind and he was the one that confirms to Ivan that he was dying. Everyone tried to hide this from Ivan but Gerasim thinks in Ivan and how it will change him and that was a bad idea to do this, so when he was taking care Ivan he told him: He saw that no one felt for him, because no one even wished to grasp his position. Only Gerasim recognized it and pitied him. And so Ivan Ilyich felt at ease only with him. He felt comforted when Gerasim supported his legs (sometimes all night long) and refused to go to bed, so he told Ivan mainly, being really authentic and honest. Doing the conclusion about how different and important was Gerasim in Ivan’s life, we need to consider everything that Gerasim did to him and that Gerasim helps Ivan to change his life about everything that was going on, and then Ivan starts being selfish and superficial that just cared about himself.
To conclude about everything that happens in the novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, it’s evident to understand that Leo Tolstoy, in the text, wants to show us what is a miserable life and an example to show us that is Ivan Ilyich`s life. Looking at the perspective of a man that had everything good in his life: a wife, son and daughter, a really good job but he lost everything for a disease, so everything in our life is vulnerable and we can lose it really fastly, and that is the reason that we need to enjoy each part of it and be a good person with everybody around us, because if you are not being the best you can with other people at the end of your life you will not have people to trust and they will be just interested in what you have, like his wife. It is important to remember that not everybody has people like Gerasim in their life, that will do everything good for you even if you are not a good person.
The Thoughts on Living Happily in the Death of Ivan Ilyich
As said from the physicist Albert Einstein, “A quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest.” By that, Einstein meant that to live well, we need to preserve and valorize the simple things of life; which is the main theme of the book The Death of Ivan Ilyich. This book explores the theme of living happily with the criticism to the bourgeoisie and to its false values by comparing this social group to falseness, superficiality, artificiality, and hypocrisy. Therefore; the main theme of the text is the thoughts on living well and happily. This criticism to the bourgeois society is made to show the readers the main intention of Leo Tolstoy, that was to show them how to live a happy and balanced life based on the description of Ivan’s one; so we can use the example of his miserable life, based on status, wealth and lies, to prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes.
The protagonist, Ivan Ilyich, based his relationships all over his life on interest; and the biggest example of that is his marriage with Praskovya Fedorovna, and that is one of the main reasons why Ilyich’s life was miserable and it’s one of the teachings given by Tolstoy to live a happy life. What firstly caused their conflict is the fact that their relationship was based on pleasing society, they didn’t love each other. The motives that the marriage failed are explicit in the excerpt: ‘To say that Ivan Ilyich married because he fell in love with Praskovya Fedorovna and found that she sympathized with his views of life would be as incorrect as to say that he married because his social circle approved of the match.” The beginning of their life together was enjoyable, but, as Tolstoy intention was to show that relationships based on status and interest don’t work, their marriage wore out at some point. The part of the text that illustrates that is: “The preparations for marriage and the beginning of married life […] were very pleasant until his wife became pregnant […] from the first months of his wife’s pregnancy, something new, unpleasant, depressing, and unseemly, and from which there was no way of escape, unexpectedly showed itself.” As the marriage was going downhill, Ivan tried to run away from the suffering, and he regretted the decision to marry Praskovya to please the bourgeoisie. This fact is evident in the part: “He now realized that matrimony — at any rate with Praskovya Fedorovna — was not always conducive to the pleasures and amenities of life, but on the contrary often infringed both comfort and propriety, and that he must, therefore, entrench himself against such infringement.” In conclusion, we can say that the author taught us that having authentic, honest and true relationships is one of the conditions to live a well-lived life. When he describes Ivan’s relations based on interests, status and wealth, as unpleasant, disastrous and disturbing; we can infer that the opposite type of relationship leads to great things.
As well as Ivan’s life teaches living lessons using his actions and consequences as the opposite that we should do to be happy, Leo Tolstoy hasn’t just shown the way to be happy through the example of a poor life; he used Gerasim to personify true, happiness, and empathy and, by that, he evidenced a peaceful way to live. The reader can first perceive the prosperity of Gerasim life through the criticizes to the bourgeois social circle: as Tolstoy portrayed the bourgeoisie as superficial, false, and almost soulless, the proletarian is characterized by the example of Gerasim as compassionate, sensitive, and sympathetic. The fact that Gerasim is a proletarian, and consequently, had all those characteristics can be perceived in the excerpt: “Ivan Ilyich had been particularly fond of him and he was performing the duty of a sick nurse.” As we know his job, we can infer that Gerasim’s position in society is proletarian. Also, unlike the bourgeois characters, Gerasim really cares about others and interact with others in an authentic and reflexive way, he has a connection with people because of the well-being of everyone matters for him. The reader feels that positivity from Gerasim firstly in the part: ‘That must be very unpleasant for you. You must forgive me. I am helpless.’ ‘Oh, why, sir,’ and Gerasim’s eyes beamed and he showed his glistening white teeth, ‘what’s a little trouble? It’s a case of illness with you, sir.’ It is explicit in this excerpt the compassion, warmth, and honesty of Gerasim, as he makes Ivan know that he is actually dying and that he will help him until the end. Gerasim is also the only one who could make Ivan accept death, as he believed that death is not the end. That occurs because Gerasim accepted death and all the bad things that happen to humans as inevitable parts of life. We can understand that by reading: “Once when Ivan Ilyich was sending him away he even said straight out: ‘We shall all of us die, so why should I grudge a little trouble?’ To conclude, Gerasim was a character made to be the right example of how to live well and happy because he could encourage Ivan to face death and he did it himself. Also, his relationships with others were harmonic, honest, and he did the best he could to console Ivan and make him know the truth that others were hiding.
As we can think of the book The Death of Ivan Ilyich as a “guide” to a positive, wonderful, and fantastic life, Tolstoy gives us a space to interpret the book as a big criticism to the bourgeois society, since he gives us Peter Ivanovich point of view in the first chapter to analyze how the bourgeoisie thinks, he also gives us Gerasim participation to show how the proletariat is a worker, sincere, virtuous, and honorable class. Peter’s point of view is the most powerful artifice that Tolstoy uses to criticize the bourgeoisie since he is portrayed as an only self-interested man who didn’t have real relationships and that was shallow and false. The greatest example of how he represented the bad characteristics of the bourgeoisie is the part: “Having told his wife at dinnertime of Ivan Ilyich’s death, and of his conjecture that it might be possible to get her brother transferred to their circuit, Peter Ivanovich sacrificed his usual nap, put on his evening clothes and drove to Ivan Ilyich’s house.” As said before, Gerasim was the example of the proletarian in the novella, and, as the book could be considered a social criticism, he had positive characteristics and represented the class in the best way possible, since there was a contrast with the bourgeoisie emptiness. He emanated positivity in all his appearances, and that’s exemplified in: “Health, strength, and vitality in other people were offensive to him, but Gerasim’s strength and vitality did not mortify but soothed him.” Lastly, Ivan’s life based on work, status, and money, just like most of the bourgeois criticized this class, since it shows how bad it can make a person. This is exemplified in the excerpt: “The whole interest of his life now centered in the official world and that interest absorbed him.”, in which we can infer that his focus on work put him apart of his family and “friends”. Taking everything into account, we can say that the book could have been a great criticism to society and the bourgeois class, since we can see all the bourgeoisie’s bad characteristics in Peter’s point of view and the narration of Ivan’s life, and the good characteristics of the proletariat are exalted through the character of Gerasim and all the help and empathy that he offers.
Finally, it may be concluded that the book The Death of Ivan Ilyich was a way of Leo Tolstoy to teach the readers in all epochs how to live a pleasant life, since he explicited to us the examples of a suffering life (Ivan’s one) and an admirable life (Gerasim’s one). So, the main objective of the author was to show the readers the best way to live, to live without the need and desire to have material things and wealthy and to be a human being who thinks not only in his personal interests but in the other’s welfare. Make a connection and show the greater significance of the subject you have written about: Making a relation between the story of Ivan Ilyich and of Tolstoy, we can say that they both had unhappy lives and, as they were members of the bourgeoisie which perceived that living for status and wealthy wasn’t a good way to live and tried to change that: Ivan by accepting death and the eternal life that goes after it and Tolstoy by writing this book to make sure everyone who reads it doesn’t have a bad experience with noticing the really important values.
Gender Roles in a Doll’s House and the Death of Ivan Ilyich
Concerning the institution of marriage, Dr. Samuel Johnson once opined: “Sir, it is so far from being natural for a man and a woman to live in the state of marriage that we find all the motives which they have for remaining in that connection, and the restraints which civilized society imposes to prevent separation, are hardly sufficient to keep them together.” Choose any two couples in Tolstoy and/or Ibsen, and consider the centrifugal forces at work in their marriages. What kinds of power relations govern these marriages? What can we learn about patterns of class and gender in the nineteenth century from these portraits of unhappy families?
The 19th century public of modern Europe was not ready to address the harsh realities of their matrimonial conventions. The industrial revolution had triggered the advancement of communication and transportation systems, connecting people and places. Liberalism had swept through and Imperialism was in the air. In areas of theatre arts and literature, the audience did not like to be reminded of reality. Nevertheless, several thinkers of the arts and literature, Henrik Ibsen and Leo Tolstoy in particular, produced work that would probe the social belief system and reveal its realistic imperfections through their works A Doll’s House and The Death of Ivan Ilyich respectively.
In the texts, one can make general observations of the fact that the male counter parts in marriage held dominant roles. They had the power of decision making in most important situations without having to consider the wife’s opinion. Monetary tasks were handled by the man where he controlled the amount of money his wife would receive to spend on household and family related expenses. When a man seeks to make independent decisions and closely control his wife’s spending, it questions her intelligence and authority. Since his wife spends most of her time on her children and homemaking, as assumed by society, she must have developed a better intuition to make decisions whether they are monetary or day to day. However, the husbands in the these texts still choose to control their wives’ area of expertise which they don’t seem invested in. This sort of dynamic between a husband and wife could lead to relationship issues of trust and freedom of individuality and these problems can inturn create distance between them in marriage. It is therefore ironic that although marriage was considered holy by society in the 19th century and couples in marriage were urged to stay together, the prevailing social issues, as illustrated in the works of Leo Tolstoy and Henrik Ibsen, instigated a separation within their marriage.
In Act I of A Doll’s House, Nora arrives home with christmas presents for her family. “Is that my lark twittering there?”, “Is that my squirrel skipping about?”, asks Torvald, her husband, from inside his study, addressing her like he would a child. Nora tells him, “Come here, see what I’ve bought,” and Torvald’s first reaction is“Don’t disturb me,” but is alarmed when he realises that she had gone shopping. He seems to keep his calm but is not happy that Nora spends like a “spendthrift,” a term used to describe birds (gamblers) always making the money fly. Upon noticing that she was sad, he hands her some money to cheer her up. When he finds out that she had not bought anything for herself, he urges her to tell him what she would like. She hesitates and denies but eventually asks him to give her some more money. This shows that Nora was, after all, dependent on Torvald for money for day to day spendings and he did not understand that homemaking demands spending. He was also disinterested in what she wanted to share with him and he only seemed to care when he heard that it had something to do with his money and her spending it.
Torvald’s disinterest follows from the social convention that a man should be invested in work and education and a woman must look after the children and keep the house presentable. This creates distance between the husband and wife and also suggests that the gender roles were very distinct which contradicts the fact that marriage means togetherness.
In the short story, The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy, the protagonist, Ivan Ilyich adopts a proprietous and aristocratic lifestyle. He focuses all of his energies on leading the ‘right’ life, complying to society’s rules. He finds himself a wife, Praskovya Fedorovna, because that is what a young righteous working man ought to do in that period of time, “He was swayed by both these considerations: 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.” Their marriage starts off well but soon Praskovya starts to demand absolute attention from him and abuses him if he did not respect her needs. Although Ivan was highly discomforted by her behaviour, he submits but soon realises that matrimony infringed both his comfort and propriety. Thus, he seeks solace in his work. His determination to live a righteous life distances him from his wife over time and her demands start to feel like a nuisance to his self-interests, especially when she is pregnant and ill. Pregnancy is a key milestone in a marriage. It symbolises a sense of family between a married couple and is known to bring them closer but it drove Ivan Ilyich away from Praskovya. When getting married, it is socially common for a husband and wife to make oaths that promise to provide support in sickness and in health. This example, however, contradicts this social convention in the name of social righteousness.
Living a socially correct life is not the answer to happiness in marriage or life in general. In Tolstoy’s short story, Ivan is diagnosed of an incurable illness. He starts to introspect and question his life and school of thought, “’Maybe I did not live as I should have.”(Tolstoy, 85). Ivan had obligated to society’s rules all his life and was very successful at work but the consequence of this lead to a broad empty space between him and his wife. In fact, when Ivan was ill, Praskovya had been so detached from him over the years that she could not care less about his suffering. She would attend social events and seldom stay by his bed. This shows that she too had distanced herself from Ivan Ilyich.
Inevitable illness in general can be very difficult to understand and deal with. The issues that stir from having somebody diagnosed with an illness are grave and no social norms can prevent them from getting any worse. A lot of times, it is a feeling of helplessness and frustration that kindles in both the person diagnosed and the people who are trying to take care of him or her. These emotions result in people taking the illness and the sick person himself for granted which can change how people in a relationship feel about each other. In The Death of Ivan Ilyich, “it came about step by step, unnoticed, but in the third month of Ivan Ilych’s illness, his wife, his daughter, his son, his acquaintances, the doctors, the servants, and above all he himself, were aware that the whole interest he had for other people was whether he would soon vacate his place, and at last release the living from the discomfort caused by his presence and be himself released from his sufferings.” (Tolstoy, 73). Ivan felt neglected and unwanted, people had started to treat him differently. Moreover, Ivan Ilyich had started to hate his wife for her attitude towards him and his illness. So he kept to himself and only seemed to like his servant, Gerasim. His family too had strayed away from him. They had all drifted apart within the social bounds of their relationship.
In Ibsen’s play, in particular, Nora decides to leave her family too. She had been dominated by Torvald for a very long time making her feel like a child with no maturity. Her act of taking out a loan to protect Torvald suggests that she was trying to prove that she had done something intellectual and mature to protect her husband. She wanted to show that she too was capable of making independent and informed decisions. Nevertheless, when Torvald found out about her suspicious activities, he was furious and more worried about saving his reputation, as opposed to the gallant reaction she was expecting. It was socially unacceptable for women to take out loans and Torvald was a man who really cared about what society thought of him. At this point, Nora had realised that this marriage was nothing but an act where she played the role of a doll to Torvald just like she did to her father. She realised that her father and Torvald had stunted her development of individuality and maturity and sought to move away from her family in order to find herself. During her farewell, she says to him, “I release you from all duties. You must not feel yourself bound any more than I shall. There must be perfect freedom on both sides. There, there is your ring back. Give me mine.” (Ibsen, 121). Nora leaves Torvald and chooses to separate herself from her family to attain freedom and become the individual she could be. Similarly, in Tolstoy’s short story, Ivan Ilyich moves into a space of solidarity and introspects about life as his illness progresses. Both authors are trying to show this act of moving away from their marriage in light of the issues illustrated in their respective plots as a suggestion that social norms about marriage are too broad to hold a married couple together.
Marriage is associated with emotions of unconditional love and everything that comes with it, therefore it cannot be strictly bound by rational rules. These rules also prevent a couple from being involved with each other’s interests and thus prevents them from having discussions which help them develop strong communication skills. One can also feel like they have no freedom if they are monetarily dependent on their partners or have to seek their permission to make certain decisions at all times. Perhaps males were able to take on this dominant role because women were not allowed to pursue further education until the latter part of 19th century. Thus, it was easy to assume that a woman is not intellectual enough to make independent decisions. Upon marriage, all of a woman’s wealth would belong to her husband. Women were also not allowed to buy, own or sell property until this time, so they must feel physically dependent on their husbands. Therefore, it is justified that the social structure and law system would define the gender roles in the way Tolstoy and Ibsen portray them to be. However, the very fact that they choose to address these issues shows that there was something horribly wrong with these social norms and that they were not an answer to the space that marital issues created between a husband and a wife.
A Background for Writing of the Death of Ivan Ilyich
Leo Tolstoy, born in Russia in 1828, wrote The Death of Ivan Ilych. The story was written eight years after Tolstoys spiritual conversion and was inspired by his own brothers death. The Death of Ivan Ilych has several ironies expressed in the story. Ilych expressed his denial, anger, depression and acceptance towards dying very visibly. Ilych expressed denial of his condition when he laughed about his accident. Ilych was explaining to the upholsterer how he wanted the drapes to hand and he slipped off the ladder. He hit his side against the knob of the window frame. He told his wife it was only a bruise. Since he was fairly athletic, he said he did not get seriously hurt, but if it had been any other man they might have been killed from the accident. Within a short time, Ilychs condition became more intense and it was decided that he needed a second opinion because he was not getting any better. He thought the doctor did not know what he was doing, but this was not the case. He needed an excuse for his failing health. His celebrated doctor diagnosed him basically with the same symptoms his first doctor had. This did not make Ilych very happy.
Ilych was expressing more and more anger because of hid declining health. While in his home, Ilych was always blaming Praskovya, his wife for everything. At the dinner table, he complained about the food not being prepared correctly, he did not like the way his daughters hair was styled, and he even blamed her if their son put his elbows on the dinner table. His wife suggested getting a famous specialist to come see him, regardless of the cost. Ilych said no. She kissed his forehead and said Good-night. Please God youll sleep. As she kissed him, Ilych hated her so much he wanted to push her away but did not.
On another occasion, Ilych was angry with everyone about everything and was upset because they did not pity him. He overheard them enjoying themselves and not including him. He was so angry and began choking with unbearable misery. He was even angry with himself and thought no man should have to suffer in this manner. He tried to calm himself and find a way to rationalize the whole situation. Ilychs condition caused him to express a great deal of depression. Deep in his heart he knew he was dying but could not get used to the fact. He began to sleep less and less and was given Opium and hypodermic shots of Morphine; the drugs did little to calm him. The special food fixed for him became tasteless and was sickening. The butler, Geraims assistance, would make Ilych as comfortable as possible. One evening Ilych moved his legs from Gerasims shoulders, turned on his side and felt sorry for himself. He wept like a child because of his helplessness, loneliness and anger with God. He felt God had forsaken him.
Ilych lost all hope on life and was so depressed he questioned God as to why was he doing this to him. Ivan finally expressed the acceptance of his condition. He would no longer lie in bed but instead he would lie on the sofa all the time. He began to ask himself the same question over and over, what is this? Can this be death? His conscience, or inner voice said to him yes, it is death. His wife began to remind him about taking his medicine. He became upset and told her, for Christs sake, let me die in peace! The doctor came to visit him as scheduled and one day he told the doctor, you know you can do nothing for me, so leave me alone. Ilych told him that he could not even ease his pain so let him be. He struggled and suffered with severe pain for three days and would scream hopelessly. Suddenly he knew what was happening to him and wanted to release himself from suffering.
A Rose for Emily and the Death of Ivan Ilyich: Similarities and Differences
Comparison: “A Rose For Emily” And “The Death Of Ivan Illych”
William Faulkner was born in the American South, dropped out of high school in tenth grade and published his more popular works between 1954 and 1962. Interestingly enough, Leo Tolstoy was born into a noble Russian family, his official title being Count, entered the University of Kazan at age sixteen and wrote his most popular works between 1865 and 1876. Indeed, on the surface there seems to be very little in common between these two men and yet there exits such overwhelming similarity between the short stories A Rose For Emily and The Death of Ivan Illych in terms of narration, character and theme that it is almost as if the stories were written to complement each other.
Perhaps the most glaring similarity between A Rose For Emily and The Death of Ivan Illych makes its appearance in the first few paragraphs of both stories, namely, the deaths of the title characters. This in itself may hardly be spectacular, but the fact is that in each story the protagonist’s death was the climax yet both authors chose to reveal this from the very beginning, effectively giving their stories predetermined ends. It may even have been easier to relate the stories in chronological order of the events, or more artistically appealing to open with the character’s early lives, switch to their deaths, and then relate the intermediate events that might have contributed to their tragic ends. However, both stories follow the almost identical format of beginning with the events immediately following the characters’ deaths, then giving almost episodic preludes to the deaths (though Faulkner splices his tale a bit more in order to produce his final effect).
A more interesting similarity lies in the protagonists themselves. Firstly, although neither work goes into great detail to relate the character’s childhoods, Faulkner and Tolstoy make it abundantly clear that while Emily and Ivan may not have experienced perhaps ideal childhoods, they were certainly not unhappy children. Ivan had been “la phenix de la famille” (Section II) and Faulkner states implicitly that Emily was given everything she needed, had been a fine-looking woman and attracted many suitors.
Furthermore, both stories explore the theme of a character trying to conform to the norm. Tolstoy goes to great pains to elaborate just how “most ordinary (…and therefore most terrible)” [Section II] Ivan’s life had been. Faulkner also explores this concept of the ordinary life, for although he gives us disturbing insights into just how morbid Emily’s life really was, he makes sure to indicate that from the townsfolk’s perspective there was nothing really different about Emily except her arrogant manner. Indeed, as far as they were concerned, the Griersons only “held themselves a little too high for what they really were” (Section II) which to say the least, was greatly understating the problem.
Also, both authors make a point of making the two characters quite powerful in the eyes of the public. In Section II of Ivan, It is said explicitly that “The consciousness of his power, being able to ruin anyone he wished to ruin, the importance, even the external dignity of his entry into court, or meetings with his subordinates, his success with superiors and inferiors, and above all his masterly handling of cases, of which he was conscious – all this gave him pleasure and filled his life…” Similarly, in A Rose for Emily, we are presented with an Emily who, fully conscious of her power, makes the druggist quiver when he dares to question her motives for purchasing the poison and was able to vanquish the tax deputation “…just as she had vanquished their fathers thirty years before about the smell”(Section II)
Emily and Ivan also possess nearly identical attitudes towards the changes around them and as the stories progress they become increasingly reluctant to accept their daily realities. Indeed, Emily seems trapped in time, unable to acknowledge her father’s death and unable to realise that the days in which her family commanded the deference of the townsfolk are passed. (Section II: ” We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.””) Ivan Illych, similarly, is unable to accept the reality of his own impending death and even to the end had been denying his own realization that he had not made the most of his life. He revokes Kiezewetter’s Logic, convincing himself that “Caius really was mortal,. and it was right for him to die; but for me, little Vanya, Ivan Illych, with all my thoughts and emotions, it’s altogether a different matter. It cannot be that I ought to die. That would be too terrible.” (Section VI)
And there is more. Consider that when Ivan Illych was obviously incapable of performing his official duties (…his colleagues and subordinates would see with surprise that and distress that he…was becoming confused and making mistakes. he would…manage somehow to bring the meeting to a close, and return home with a sorrowful consciousness..” Section VI) he became invalid and yet he continued until it was absolutely impossible. Ivan inherited in most part the description of his father who was “an official who…had made the sport of career which brings men to position from which…cannot be dismissed” (II 1243) Here, then Tolstoy is saying that though he may not have been aware of it, Ivan had become very much the print of his father.
Section II of A Rose For Emily contains the passage: “We had long thought of them as a tableau, Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a straddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back flung front door”
The passage explains just how much influence Emily’s father had on her life, so that earlier in the story when Faulkner describes Emily as a “fallen monument” (Section I) he is suggesting more than the fact that Emily was such a strong object of the town’s attention, but that by keeping herself isolated and refusing to marry Homer Barron because of the sense of “noblesse oblige” that her father had ingrained into her, she had in her life been a sterling tribute to her father. Thus, both Faulkner and Tolstoy, though not dwelling on the point are acknowledging the powerful roles the parents had in the lives of Ivan and Emily, and ultimately, their deaths.
Moreover, both stories dwell on the theme of a person’s isolation from society. In A Rose For Emily, Emily physically separates herself from the rest of the world and resigns to the decrepit house where she died, while Ivan, though he remained at home near to his family while on his deathbed , had immersed himself in the “black hole” (Section XII: “He felt that his agony was due to his being thrust into that black hole and still to his not being able to get right into it), imprisoned himself in a “black border” (section I) that separated him from everyone around him.
Furthermore, both Faulkner and Tolstoy explore the protagonists’ desire to live their lives by proxy, as it were. In Ivan’s case he fulfils the role that a fine young man in society is expected to – from his playing vint with his comrades, to his marriage to Praskovya. (Section II: ” To say that Ivan Illych married because he fell in love with Praskovya Fedorovna and found that she sympathised with his views of life would be as incorrect to say that he married because his social circle approved of the match.”) Similarly, Emily, though in love with Barron, refuses to marry him because of the noble family reputation that she believes it is her duty to uphold. Instead, she (“carried her head high enough”) does what her cousins tell is the correct thing to do and she believes her father would have expected.
To go a step further, both stores take the same pessimistic view of love as a source of anguish and marriage as a source of despair. Ivan all too often proclaims – if only to himself – his ever increasing hate for Praskovya. From the very beginning he “might have been inspired to a more brilliant match (Section II)” and later on we are told that “Matrimony – at any rate with Praskovya Fedorovna – …often infringed both comfort and propriety.” Faulkner takes only a slightly different stand, in that although we are given no reason to believe that there was anything but genuine love between Emily and Homer, it is this love that becomes the proximate cause of Homer’s death, almost as if both authors are suggesting that love is really only an ideal that is unattainable in real life.
And finally, perhaps the most significant similarity is Tolstoy’s use of a common servant to be the single source of comfort to Ivan during his last days, and Faulkner’s use of the Negro who had devoted his entire life to Emily. A minor detail really, but when one considers that while Tolstoy could easily have used any character – Peter Ivanovich? – to fulfil the role of Gerasim in being the person to give solace to Ivan on his deathbed, Tolstoy chose to introduce and use the character of a serf labourer, and that Faulkner chose to use a Negro man instead of any of the other townsfolk, one begins to suspect an ulterior motive behind these actions.
Consider also the description of Gerasim (who appears in the story for no more than five pages) that appears in Section VII: “Gerasim… with a firm light tread, his heavy boots emitting a pleasant smell of tar and fresh winter air…the sleeves of his print shirt tucked up over his strong bare young arms…restraining the joy of life that beamed from his face…” Now compare it to the description of Praskovya that appears in Section II: “She came from a good family and was not bad looking”. Consider also the partuclarly memorable paragraph in Emily in which Faulkner writes “And so she died. Fell ill in the house filled with dust and shadow, with only a doddering Negro man to wait on her. We did not even know she was sick, we had long since given up trying to get any information from the Negro. He talked to no one, probably not even to her, for his voice had grown harsh and rusty, as if from disuse,” It is almost as if Tolstoy and Faulkner are pointing out to us as loudly as they could that there is something here we should be seeing.
But, what is it? Why do so many similarities exist between these two short stories, from authors born into different social structures, in different countries during different eras? Certainly one might argue that it makes sense that both Tolstoy and Faulkner would chose to give us some bit of information about the childhoods/early lives of our two characters, if only to give use a sense of realism and to avoid having the characters exist for but the few minutes that the story lasts. It might even be argued that the actions of every man and woman are in some way affected by the events of his or her childhood, so that in referring to how much Ivan and Emily became like their parents, Tolstoy and Faulkner are just reiterating a well-known fact. But what about Gerasim and the Negro man? Indeed Tolstoy and Faulkner are telling us that there is something to be learnt here.
There is no doubt that Ivan and Emily are two very unique stories. Yet, when juxtaposed an interesting image is formed. In one story, we are presented with a woman who never really had control of her life and, left alone, retreated into bleak isolation, dying lonely and unhappy. The other is that of a man whose life was controlled by the decrees of society, who retreated into a mental black hole, but seeing the beauty of life in the common servant assigned to take care of him in his final days dies, if not with a sense of inner peace, without a heavy heart.
I believe that Faulkner and Tolstoy, each in his unique way is trying to impart to us a two-fold lesson. The first part is advice that we should live our own lives, not according to the dictations of anyone, but to the best of our abilities; and the second part, a warning that to live alone is to not have lived at all.
Understanding the Mystery of Life As Depicted In, The Death Of Ivan IIyich
Life is not always as it seems
In The Death of Evan Ilyich, the author Leo Tolstory is trying to instruct his reader about the life. Ivan didn t really know what marriage was all about until it was too late. Ivan s wife got revenge on her husband at the end of the book. Peter was not the friend Ivan thought her was. There is usually one person in the world that cares about someone the most.
Ivan is trying to tell his readers that marriage is not always what people think it is. When Ivan and Praskovya, his wife were going out he didn t really think about marrying her. When Praskovya fell in love with Ivan he thought, Really, why shouldn t I get married? So he decided to get married. Everything was going well at the start. Then his wife got pregnant, everything changed. She became angry at everything he did. She started saying that he was not paying enough attention to her. He tried to act normal and spend time with his friends. Then his wife got violent with him so he stayed at work more because he didn t want to be at home. They never got divorced but he did have affairs.
When death is upon Ivan his wife pays very little attention to him when he needs it the most. She remembers all the things he did to her when she was pregnant. Not only did his wife turned her back on him, his whole family did except his son. His family felt that he was not there when they needed him, so they are going to do the dame thing to him. It is sad that he could not be there for his wife so she could have been there for him. She really doesn t care about him that much because if she really loved him she would have taken care of him even though he didn t take care of her.
Peter is supposed to be Ivan s best friend. When he dies Peter doesn t even want to go to his funeral. All of Ivan s friends only cared about what they were going to get because if Ivan s death. The people who you think are really your friends don t really care about you. They only wanted the things Ivan had promised they would get when he died. At the end of his life he started to see who his real friends were.
Gerasim is Ivan s servant; he is really the only one that cares about him. Gerasim took care of him when no one else would. Ivan s son also cared about him. In Ivan s will he probably gave nothing to Gerasim and he was the one who really cared about Ivan. Gerasim thought that if he cared about Ivan, then someone would probably care about him. Sometimes the people who care about you the most are the ones you don t respect.
In this book there were a lot of things about life that people don t always think about. It make me think about if I am there for people when they really need me or do I ignore them. I hope when I die that people will care about me and not just wondering what I left them in my will.
Separate and Alone: Alienation as a Central Theme in Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Kafka’s Metamorphosis
Like death or abandonment, alienation is one of the deepest-rooted fears experienced by human beings. As social creatures, humans have the need to identify themselves as one of a group, whether that group is a family, a culture, or a religion. The experience of alienation is one of violation of a person’s need for acceptance. Both Leo Tolstoy in The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Franz Kafka in Metamorphosis use alienation as a central theme to comment on the human need to experience love and acceptance. Both Ivan Ilyich and Gregor Samsa experience in their respective tragedies a great deal of alienation, which separates them from the groups to which they have been comfortably attached for most of their lives. Both authors trace the theme of alienation by exposing the displacement experienced emotionally, psychologically, and physically by their central characters.
The physical changes that plagued both Ivan Ilyich and Gregor Samsa were the forces that perpetuated further alienation. These physical changes are important to note because not only did they change the appearances of the characters, but they also affected the way those around them viewed them, and deeply influenced the way both men viewed themselves and others. Though the physical changes may seem to be the least tragic part of both stories, by physically distinguishing the men as different from those around them, the authors are better able to comment on the mental isolation which becomes the worst part of both men’s misfortunes. The physical alienation felt by both characters is therefore an impetus for the other forms of alienation that later affect Gregor and Ivan.
Both men undergo disturbing physical transformations that change their lives. Gregor’s physical change is obvious immediately in the first sentence of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. As soon as he awakens, Gregor finds “himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous insect [. . .] lying on his hard shell-like back and [. . .] he could see his curved brown belly, divided by stiff arching ribs” (Kafka 76). This physical transformation begins a series of events in which Gregor is alienated from his family and acquaintances. Gregor’s transformation is all encompassing; not only does he look completely different, but his voice, his tastes, and his abilities have undergone serious alterations also. This complete physical change is only partially his physical alienation. Gregor is also physically distanced from those around him. He is physically isolated from his family as they lock him in a room and are unable to even look at his monstrous form. Gregor’s adjustment from being a daily traveler with his job to being a literal prisoner in his home is one way in which the reader can identify with the drastic alienation Gregor experiences as a result of his physical transformation. The door to his bedroom becomes a barrier rather than an opening to the world, and the reader witnesses the great difficulty that Gregor has: “he clenched his jaws desperately on the key” (Kafka 86).
Ivan physical alienation is less dramatic than Gregor’s, but also begins a series of alienations. Instead of a dramatic alteration of appearance, Ivan physical transformation is a slow deterioration of the body, which for most of the story is unnoticeable. Though the sickness causes pain for Ivan, the physical changes do not become apparent until almost two-thirds of the way through the story when his brother-in-law visits. Even Ivan is unaware of his physical transformation, as is shown when his brother-in-law “opened his mouth to gasp but checked himself,” and Ivan asks, “What is it?have I changed?” (Tolstoy 85). Ivan, like Gregor, is also physically isolated from his former life. He, too, was confined to his room after his sickness began to hinder his formerly sociable lifestyle, and is subjected to watching his loved ones go about “in a whirl of social activity” (Tolstoy 80). Tolstoy exposes the alienation his character feels through the long and solitary hours in which Ivan constantly questions his misfortunes and rages against death while his family goes about their daily lives.
The alienation experienced by both characters is also exposed through psychological methods. Ivan and Gregor both experience changes in how they are able to view themselves and their relationships with others. Though both constantly reach out to lessen the effects of the alienation they are experiencing, neither is able to maintain the psychology they had before misfortune struck. Ivan’s realization of his mortality is an extreme change in his psychology and allows him to deepen his formerly shallow existence. For example, during a game of cards, which he used to enjoy greatly, Ivan watched and “he saw how upset Mikhail Mikhailovich was while he himself did not care. And it was dreadful to think why he did not care” (Tolstoy 82). This change in Ivan further alienates him from his acquaintances because they have not reached the same level of enlightenment as Ivan. This psychological alienation is yet another reminder of Ivan’s separation from others. He has matured through facing his mortality, and his growth has placed a barrier between him and his friends.
Gregor is psychologically alienated because although he is an insect, he still has the thought process of a human being. This dichotomy proves a difficult shift in Gregor’s psychological well-being. He is torn between hopes of returning to his human form, and his comfort as a monstrous insect. One scene that marks his psychological alienation occurs when his sister and mother are attempting to move the furniture out of the room to make Gregor’s movement easier. Despite the advantages of having less furniture to impede his movement, Gregor’s desire to keep his room like it was when he was human is overwhelming: “no doubt he would be free to crawl about unimpeded in all directions, but only at the price of rapidly and completely forgetting his human past” (Kafka 103). Another example of psychological alienation occurs at Gregor’s death. At this point in the story, the reader must realize all that has happened to Gregor: not only his physical form has been irrevocably changed, but his place as the caretaker of the household, and his place in society have been altered. Gregor’s last thoughts before his death point to the psychological alienation he feels. He no longer is concerned with his own well-being, but that of his family and “his own opinion that he must disappear was if anything even firmer than his sister’s” (Kafka122). This psychological alienation forces Gregor to change his ideas of his own importance.
Both of the authors reveal their main characters to be emotionally alienated from others also. For example, Ivan’s emotions are most often kept hidden from those around him. Several times in the text, Tolstoy hints to the reader that Ivan desires an emotional connection to those around him, but he is unable to connect because he wishes to keep a strong appearance in front of his colleagues. Even before Ivan learns of his impending death, he is emotionally isolated from others, as is revealed in his relationship with his wife and family. Ivan is emotionally alienated and has “the need to fence off a world for himself outside the family” (Tolstoy 57). After his illness begins, Ivan realizes the dangers in this emotional alienation and tries to reach out, but finds himself unable to do so because of social conventions. Ivan longs for human affection:
He knew that he was an important functionary with a graying beard, and so this was impossible; yet all the same he longed for it [. . .] Ivan Ilyich wanted to cry, wanted to be caressed and cried over, yet his colleague Shebek, a member of the court, would come and instead of crying and getting affection, Ivan Ilyich would assume a serious, stern, profound expression [. . . ] Nothing did so much poison the last days of Ivan Ilyich’s life as this falseness in himself and in those around him. (Tolstoy 105)
Gregor also suffers from emotional alienation. As the main source of income for the family, he has an emotional attachment to them as dependents. His love for his family, particularly his mother and sister, is shown through Gregor’s thoughts after his transformation. His desire to remain emotionally connected with his family, particularly his younger sister, is presented during the scene in which Gregor listens to his sister playing the violin: “It seemed to him as if the way were opening towards the unknown nourishment he craved” (Kafka 117). Kafka uses this scene to show the effects of the emotional alienation that Gregor experiences, and how he, like Ivan yearns for love and acceptance, despite his monstrous form.
Both Tolstoy and Kafka use the theme of alienation to show the deepest emotions of those who have suddenly experienced a great change. Because both Gregor and Ivan experience a life-changing event, they are forced, through alienation, to question their own worth. By analyzing the psychological, emotional and physical aspects of alienation is The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Metamorphosis, the reader sees the similarities in the two characters’ positions as they are suddenly forced to reflect on their own importance and question their autonomy.
Leo Tolstoy’s View of Ethics as Described in His Book, The Death of Ivan Iiyich
Human Morality’s Presence Through Ivan Ilych’s Death
Leo Tolstoy eloquently weaves together the lackluster life tale of a dying man who lived for vanity in “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”. Tolstoy bluntly portrays the agonizing awareness of death growing within Ilyich, while Ilyich is recognizing his own mortality and lack of human morality; the amount of human morality is also missing from those around him. Morality can be seen in a variety of ways. However, George Gutsche from Northern Illinois University specifies that Tolstoy focuses on a specific few, “Tolstoi indicts society’s reigning values, personal pleasure and propriety, and advocates compassion and love as the best foundation for living…Tolstoi advances compassion as one of the highest human virtue,” (260). Instead of living through love and compassion, Ilyich and those around him dedicated their lives to vanity and self decorum. Leo Tolstoy’s exploration through Ivan Ilych’s death shows the effect of human morality on his peers and family. This is shown through his wife, Praskovya Fyodorovna, his peer, Pyotr Ivanovich, his servant, Gerasim, and Ivan Ilyich himself.
Using Gutsche’s moral frame of compassion and love as the focus of human morality, Praskovya Fyodorovna had an extreme lack of both through Ilyich’s death. Her underwhelming emotional presence caused a resentment from Ilyich towards her as he began to the realize the falsity of their relationship, “He hates her with every inch of his being. And her touch causes an agonizing well of hatred to surge up in him,” (Tolstoy 111). Fyodorovna is unable to empathize with him, instead she blames him for his sickliness. Their marriage was not one of love or mutual compassion, it was of social calling and the idea of a perfect match, “Even in the presence of death they still lived in accordance with decorum, the master he served all his life. His wife simulated sympathy and care for him because these belonged to that decorum,but now Ivan Ilyich was sick of falsity” (Pachmuss 331). Ilyich pined for love and the care, similar to that of a child, yet he was met with hostility and loneliness. His marriage displayed Fyodorovna’s lack of care for her husband. His death made her feel as if she suffered more than he did. She had to experience his screaming in agonizing pain and watch as her husband fell apart in front of her. Any show of affection or sympathy was an act for the doctors or peers around her. His dying was an inconvenience on her life and even more inconvenient because his death didn’t bring anything more to her.
Pyotr Ivanovich never actually considered death as a part of the life he faced. Ivanovich and Ilyich were apart of the same world. They only wanted what looked pleasing and made themselves look better socially and emotionally; any other aspect of life was unimportant, unnecessary to think about, “People in Ivan’s world are dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure and comfort and to the avoidance of what is discomforting: they cannot imagine their own deaths,” (Gutsche 262). Similar to Fyodorovna, Ivanovich feels no sympathy for Ilyich. Their entire friendship is a falsity. Ivanovich cared mostly about how Ilyich’s death unsettled him. But it was less of an inconvenience to him because he did not have to deal with it. Ivanovich showed no compassion for Ilyich in the first chapter or throughout the story. Ivanovich is concerned more so with the business of work, “And so the first thought that occured to each of the gentlemen in this office, learning of Ivan Ilyich’s death, was what effect it would have on their own transfers and promotions or those of their acquaintances.” (Tolstoy 36).
Compassion and love is the height of morality for a person in this story, to bestow to someone else. Gerasim was Ilyich’s only emphatic and human companion. Ilyich’s death only provoked a natural release of compassion from Gerasim to Ilyich. He showed no inconvenience from Ilyich, knowing he would face death one day as well. Gerasim is a servant who is in this false world of living and vanity, however he was not a part of it. Gerasim wasn’t living for vanity or what made him appear more sociable. He lived to serve and understood the needs of people, resulting in Ilyich being comfortable with only him , “Gerasim did everything easily, willingly, simply, and with a goodness of heat that moved Ivan Ilyich,” (Tolstoy 102). Gerasim displayed a lot of compassion and care for Ilyich in his final moments, however this wasn’t from the emotions he felt specifically for Ilyich. Gerasim didn’t care for Ilyich because he genuinely loved and felt for him, he cared for Ilyich because that’s what morally human beings are supposed to do. He was acting out of the way he believes the world should work and they way he hopes someone cares for him when he is in his deathbed, “Even kind and understanding Gerasim acts out of a sense of moral duty rather than from real love,” (Pachmuss 332). This moral duty still provided compassion and love, but it is important to note that Gerasim acts out of human decency and moral code over a personal connection to Ilyich.
Ivan Ilyich displayed a drastic change in morality from the beginning to end. Ilyich’s pain throughout his death came more so from the question within himself of whether or not he lived how he was supposed to than from his actual event of dying. Ilyich lived for vanity and the purpose of appeasing the societal quo. He even dies from and for vanity. His death led him to an abrupt realization that his life was lived for nothing. He was agonizing over an empty shell that he created for himself, “It’s inconceivable, inconceivable that life was so senseless and disgusting, why should I have to die and die in agony? Something must be wrong. Perhaps I did not live as I should have,” (Tolstoy 120). Ilyich lived his life for himself, he didn’t care for those around him. Any problem was a burden to him and he was unable to feel for others or have humility. The kindness and happiness he portrayed was a falsity, even though he worried about others falsity around him. There was a change in him right before his death, instead of hatred and selfishness, he embraced compassion and love for his family. He asked for forgiveness and allowed their tears and somber embraces. “Without love, Ivan Ilyich’s life was empty and meaningless. With the discovery of love, Ivan Ilyich felt that his death was reduced to insignificance,” (Pachmuss 332), Ilyich no longer feared death because it was not discomforting or unpleasant anymore. Once he realized that his life was unpleasant, death became unimportant. His own death’s effect on himself clarified the importance of compassion and love instead of vanity, how he should not have pushed away those around them, and instead embraced them.
Life was all for social appearances and how good you appeared in Ilyich’s world, everything else was unimportant or discomforting. Leo Tolstoy’s exploration through Ivan Ilych’s death shows the effect of human morality on his peers and family. His wife, Praskovya Fyodorovna, lacks love for her husband and cannot empathize with him. His death served more difficult for her than for anyone else, in her eyes. His peer, Pyotr Ivanovich; claims to be close with Iylich, however has no compassion for him. Ilyich’s death serves nothing more than a discomforting thought. His servant, Gerasim, displays the utmost respect and compassionate care for Ilyich. He understand that a dying man deserves to be taken care of and looked after in hopes that when he is a dying man, someone will do the same. Ivan Ilyich’s death had the biggest effect on himself. Ilyich’s death transformed Ilyich from a lowly, egocentric man to a free and compassionate man. Even though, it was at the moment of his death, Ivan Ilyich faced a change that freed him from his own agony.
Leo Tolstoy’s Portrayal of Wickedness as Illustrated in His Book, The Death of Ivan IIyich
There are many philosophical questions that humans have been trying to answer since the birth of our species. What is my purpose on earth? Is there divine beings? Who created me and this world? The short story The Death of Ivan Ilych tactfully incorporates two of these unanswered questions into the main theme. These questions evaluate the “problem of evil”, and how one should live their life on earth.
The “problem of evil” states that if god was good, almighty, and intelligent, then there wouldn’t be natural disasters that harm the innocent. This problem questions the supremacy of the divine and the origin of evil. There are diseases, storms, sickness, suffering, and death in this world that affects babies, the religious, the elderly, and the innocent. In the short story, Ivan lays on his bed and couch for weeks before his death and continually grapples with this problem and tries to conjure a solution as mortality begins to slip from his fingertips.
Ivan believes he has led a proper life full of decorative belongings and clothes, social gatherings, games, and general pleasantries. As he suffers from great pain in his side from an injury, he questions what he has done to deserve the long lasting pain and deterioration that he experiences. He led his life in a decorative, proper, and pleasant life. He was a social man, had a family whom he took care of, upheld the law, and had not committed any crimes or wronged anyone. Due to this, he did not believe that he deserved to have this natural ailment at the age of forty five that caused him months of pain, suffering, and eventually death.
The first point in which Ivan references the problem of evil is about a fortnight before he passes away. “He wept on account of his helplessness, his terrible loneliness, the cruelty of man, the cruelty of God, and the absence of God” (page 55). Ivan believed that God had abandoned him when he needed God most, and that God had intentionally let him suffer and created natural ailments. He begins to question god’s intentions of creating this ailment, why he was brought to earth, and god’s ultimate intentions for his destiny. He first begins to believe that the solution to the problem of evil is that God is cruel, inflicting him with the ailment because he was displeased with how Ivan lived his life. Ivan quickly rejects the idea since he has lived his life being proper, correct, and without crime or sin. He uses the logic that if you do good, then good should come back to you. Ivan admits that there is no reason for death and agony, since he has lived in accordance to his faith.
After a fortnight passes, Ivan realizes that he didn’t live his life correctly. He questioned the way he lived and realized that he didn’t lead an examined life. He only passed time with societal and civil duties and didn’t engage in social interactions to form bonds but only to uphold a reputation. Due to the circumstances, the justification that suffering builds character is the solution to the problem of evil in Ivan’s situation.“(Suffering) refines the individual’s emotional capacities, orders his will, and encourages a more reflective attitude of mind” (Problem of Evil essay). Ivan had to endure suffering to reflect on his life and realize the way he was living was wrong. However, he was not able to correctly convey this message to others and was not able to recover and live an examined life which makes this solution flawed.
As Ivan reflects more on the problem of evil, he finally realizes before the last few days of his life that he indeed lived his life wrong. “And his professional duties and the whole arrangement of his life and of his family and all his social and official interests, might all have been false” (page 60). Socrates, a philosopher, has stated that the unexamined life is not worth living and in Ivan’s moment of reflection and suffering he realized the truth of it. Ivans suffering emphasizes the importance of the philosopher’s principles on how one should live an examined life. One of Socrates’s principles that is relevant to the short story is that one should care more about the improvement of one’s soul than material or wealth. Ivan spent his adult life trying to get the highest paying job, have as much wealth as possible, and bought cheap antiques to try and appear wealthy. Ivan was obsessed with getting into the social circle of wealthy and spent much of his life in falsehood and deception. Not leading an examined life leads to a life that is not valuable or has depth, and Ivan makes a perfect example of this.
One should lead an examined life to avoid letting life slip by them, to have an impact on the world, and to add depth and value to their life and relationships. Ivan had not led an examined life as he had hid from mortality, eventually leading him to being unprepared for death and facing regret. There is no true solution for the problem of evil (if there are divine beings) and every person must face this as they encounter death or suffering.