The Romanticization of Lower Class in Leo Tolstoy’s Novella the Death of Ivan Ilych
Gerasim and the Romanticization of Poverty
In The Death of Ivan Ilych, Leo Tolstoy recounts Ivan’s illness and death as well as his reflections on his life and his interactions with others. Though many people around him seem disgusted by and afraid of his situation, and ill-equipped to help him, Gerasim, a peasant and servant, is portrayed quite differently. He behaves positively and seems genuinely committed to easing Ivan’s pain. His simple, hardworking life also stands out as very different from Ivan’s life of relative luxury. It is romanticized; that it, his situation is depicted as desirable, and the good (or presumed) good aspects are emphasized while the bad ones are downplayed or ignored. Class is an important issue in The Death of Ivan Ilych; Tolstoy makes sure readers know that Ivan worries his lifestyle was fruitless, but he goes further and also romanticizes Gerasim’s lower class. Despite working hard and long and living in doubtlessly poor conditions, he is healthy and cheerful.
Gerasim is depicted as simple and innocent in comparison to wealthier characters. At the reader’s first encounter with him, he tells Peter Ivanovich that Ivan’s death is “God’s will,” and then, “like a man in the thick of urgent work… [he] sprang back to the porch as if in readiness for what he had to do next” (101). Though upon learning the news of their friend’s death Peter and the others casually discuss what it means for their careers, and later contemplate the death more gravely, Gerasim accepts it as part of life and moves on with his duties. He is used to menial tasks and physical labor, as well as the unfortunate realities of what it means to be human. He helps Ivan with messier aspects of his illness, and Ivan is embarrassed to be in such a demeaning state in front of “a clean, fresh peasant lad, grown stout on town food [who is] always cheerful and bright” (134). Gerasim, one of the few lower-class characters, is presented in contrast to wealthier characters like Ivan and his family. As a peasant, he’s likely had to deal with bodily functions and death, so Ivan’s illness and passing do not faze him. Ivan seems to have an idealized view of Gerasim as an innocent peasant living a simple life untainted by bureaucracy and greed like his own. He can accept death easily because it’s inevitable and natural, and he does not mind helping the ailing and incontinent Ivan because he is used to working.
Tolstoy also seems to glorify work. As Ivan reflects on his life and remembers when he lost his job, he recalls that “without his work, he experienced… not only ennui but intolerable depression” (111). Working is necessary to lead a fulfilling life. However, Ivan gets sick and cannot continue working, and seems to regret his luxurious lifestyle. Therefore, it follows that the intellectual, bureaucratic work of Ivan and his class is not what’s important. Tolstoy is glorifying the physical labor of servants. During his illness, Ivan is drawn to Gerasim’s physical strength. He often mentions details about him such as his “strong bare young arms” (135). It is not mentioned that in order to have such strong limbs, Gerasim must perform hard physical labor so that he can make a living. His life is probably rather difficult, but Ivan only focuses on how strong and full of life he is. Ivan, his wife, and his friends all have problems, while Gerasim is only mentioned in the context of cheerfully attending to Ivan. The life of a working peasant might appear to be free of complexities and problems; a steadfast dedication to simple work is the answer. As mentioned before in his interaction with Peter, Gerasim is constantly acting “in readiness for what he [has] to do next” (101). He is always ready for whatever Ivan may ask him, and willing no matter what it is. The commitment to his duty and ability to perform any task, no matter how strenuous or unappealing, makes Gerasim attractive to Ivan, or at least admirable.
The realities of Gerasim’s life or those of someone in his class are often ignored. As mentioned, his physical strength is praised without explicit acknowledgement of how he came to be that way. Ivan asks the servant to sit with him for long periods of time, constantly holding his legs up. If Ivan thinks to ask if he has other duties, Gerasim replies “Don’t trouble with that, sir. There’s always plenty of time” (136). In reality, as the butler’s assistant, Gerasim would be expected to complete many other tasks as well as assisting Ivan, and may face punishment or a harmful pay reduction if he doesn’t complete duties such as “chopping the logs for tomorrow” (136). Furthermore, he may have more responsibilities at home for his own family. It is not realistic that Gerasim would have the luxury of sitting with Ivan for hours on end. Nonetheless, the novella focuses on the seemingly romantic aspects of Gerasim – his good nature, his dedication to hard work and to Ivan, and his (assumed) simplicity and innocence. Doubting his own choices, Ivan looks at Gerasim’s “good-natured face” and wonders “What if my whole life has really been wrong?” (152). Ivan doesn’t consider the hardships of a peasant’s life, only the virtuous qualities of this particular peasant.
In Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych, Gerasim represents the glorification of work and of the working class. Ivan doubts his more luxurious and bureaucratic lifestyle, while idolizing Gerasim for the simplicity and goodness he seems to embody. The idea of a simple peasant life is romanticized, and the difficulties that are doubtlessly part of a poor peasant’s life are unmentioned. He isn’t deeply characterized; rather, he offers a continual positive and down-to-earth presence in contrast to the worrying, nagging, greedy characters that make up the novella. He and his lifestyle are held up as the ideal, the opposite and therefore the answer to Ivan’s fruitless pursuits of wealth and recognition.
Gender and Social Norms in “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy
The novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy commences and concludes with the act of adultery and the consequences of the forbidden love affairs. Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky and his sister Anna Arkadyevna Karenina are the driving forces of the scandalous love affairs within the novel. Oblonsky has an affair with his children‘s governess, while Anna Kanrenina has an affair with a wealthy military officer, Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky. Oblonsky and Karenina’s affairs are similar in that they both go against their social responsibility; however, the love Karenina has for Vronksy is much more passionate than the attraction Oblonsky feels for the governess.
The consequences the siblings face for their actions are completely different because of their gender roles and the societal norms.
Taking a further look into Oblonksy’s affair and the consequences of it, the apparent differences between his sister’s affair are evident. Oblonsky is not an emotional person; he has a hard time deciding on his emotions because of their lack of true meaning. Oblonsky could not “persuade himself that he repented of his conduct” with the mistress (Tolstoy 7). He felt no serious remorse for his actions with the mistress because he never developed any real emotion for her. Oblonsky being a male sees no harm in sleeping with another woman because there is little consequences for his actions; however, a woman who is doing the same thing could potentially become pregnant and face immense consequences. Oblonsky views his relations with the mistress as “fun” and not harming to the “sanctity of his home” (Tolstoy 111). Society seems to share the same views as Oblonsky, besides his wife being upset with him nothing else changes for him. He and his wife continue their maladaptive marriage and he ends up getting the job he wanted.
All the while, society has no criticism for his actions due to his lack of emotion and gender.
Completely opposite from Oblonsky’s affair, Karenina’s affair has love, passion, and committement. The consequences she faces are extremely severe and lead to her eventual suicide. Karenina is a woman and society holds her to a higher standard for her affair, yet she also allows her “dangerous passions” to interfere with her affair (Tolstoy 382). Karenina’s mother speaks of her daughters strong emotions and how they tend to get her in trouble. Her strong passion for Vronsky pulls Karenina away from her husband and son and she eventually abandons them. The abandonment of her family is another reason why she treated negatively by society. Society was shocked that Karenina was willing to completely abandon her son and husband; they viewed her abandonment as failing to be a mother and wife— a woman’s duty in society. The problem with Karenina’s gender is demonstrated one night when she begs to attend the opera with Vronsky; however, Vronsky does not understand why she would want to show herself as a “fallen woman” to society and embarrass him (Tolstoy 1181).
The separation between Vronsky and Karenina begins to develop at this point in the novel; the difference between male and female is demonstrated because Vronsky, who has impregnated a married woman, faces no consequences while Karenina is completely excluded from society. Karenina is now an embarrassment for Vronsky according to society. Sadly, the passion Karenina feels and her role in society are reasons that lead to her eventual downfall.
After studying the affairs and the consequences of both Oblonsky and Karenina, the major similarities and differences between the two situations are evident. The most obvious similarity between the two characters is found in their personalities; they are both sociable and delightful in the beginning of the novel. However, this similarity begins to change as society changes their view of Karenina. On the contrary, gender role is the major difference between the two characters. Tolstoy uses these two characters to demonstrate how during this time a man and a woman could commit the same sin, yet the woman is the one that faces the harshest punishment. As a male, Oblonsky has an advantage in the affair and his lack of emotions in his relationships allows him to live carelessly without any consequences from society. Tolstoy develops Oblonsky’s character very little, and in fact he becomes more of a stagnant character. Karenina’s personality is the complete opposite of Oblonsky; she is a very passionate woman, and society viewed this a negative. Furthermore, the treatment of man versus woman in the novel is the major difference between Karenina and Oblonsky, and is a representation of how society handled gender roles.
Overall, Tolstoy uses the novel Anna Karenina to display how the treatment of man and woman during this time was unfair. Karenina is judged brutally for her strong passions in her affair and not fulfilling her role in society, while the emotionless Oblonsky gets away without any consequences. The novel shows how society judges those who do not follow gender norms or one’s societal role.
The Lack of Concept of Enough in the Consumerist Society
We all want big paychecks, big cars & big houses. We want everything and we want it more, but have you ever thought what the limit is? Where it all stops? What is the end? How much is enough? Let me start answering this profound question through a story. Most of us know Pahom- the peasant, the protagonist of the story, “How Much Land Does a Man Need? ”. This story is a masterpiece written by Leo Tolstoy in the year 1886. Pahom is a replica of most of us. We all want more and more, he also wanted more. We are never satisfied with what we have, he was also not satisfied with what he had. We never count our blessings, his nature was no different than this. He wanted more land, more wealth and everything more than what is enough.
Once given an opportunity to acquire as much land possible he got excited and overwhelmed. The opportunity came his way but with one condition. If he can make it back to the starting point before sunset, whatever land he covers will be his. Pahom started his journey like a maniac. He wanted to cover everything. He wanted to get the entire land, so he just started running to cover the distance to get more and more land. While running he even saw the Sun over his head, who was laughing at him and telling him to go back so that he can enjoy what he has, but his greed kept him eluding from this realization and he ran farther. Stop here! Just think. Are some of us not like Pahom? Have we ever stopped and taken a stack of what we have and what we are running for? If answered with utmost sincerity, I know the answer of this question is always No. We are too busy running like Pahom. We all are chasing water in desert which is nothing but a mirage. It just appears that we have found it, we have found that happiness, but the moment we reach that spot we find it to be farther ahead, or may be it was never there and appeared momentarily like an illusion, just like the mirage. I think, I just deviated from Pahom’s story. Let’s continue this tale. So Pahom kept running like no tomorrow. The moment when he realized he has come way far and he needs to go back to fulfill the condition of reaching back to the start point, he started running backwards, however it was too late. Sun was running towards the horizon faster than him. He tried to beat the speed of the Sun. As he started running faster, he got exhausted, but he kept on running. He gave a good competition to the Sun.
The Sun was running faster than ever to beat Pahom, but this guy was amazing, he beats the Sun and reaches the starting point before sunset. He gets the deal of his life time. He owned the entire land he covered. Now he has the fortune to live his life completely in happiness. Alas! Exhausted from the Sun, he was not able to breath and he drops dead. He died on the spot. His greed overpowered him and he was unable to enjoy what was enough for him to live a happy life. Further to the story, his well-wishers buried him in a grave which was only six feet long, and this answers the title of the book, “How much land does a man need? “. It also answers how much is enough? Now the profound question is why this happened and how much is enough? In this interesting & eloquent talk, Kevin Cavenaugh- a renowned building designer and developer in Portland, who has designed and developed cutting edge, award-winning buildings, by giving example of three topics mainly wealth, rent and equality, tried to answer this question. He himself lost all his property during recession and had to sell his big house and move into a house with minimal amenities for living like water, heat and electricity. He says it was not a house of his dreams but it was home enough and ever since he has been obsessed with the word “Enough”.
He questions the status quo and brings examples from his life how he used the question, how much is enough. He says that if we all just use the word enough a little bit more and start utilizing power of the word enough, it will bring myriad change in our life, our community as a whole, and to humanity. He brought changes in lives of his employees by offering the same paycheck what he is drawing for himself, he offered people affordable housing which is enough to live a good life and he made sure that there is no gender wage gap in his own company. He gave reference of a Massachusetts couple who found out that someone making a million dollars a year is no happier than someone making $70,000 a year. He says “below seventy it starts to tail off and depending on where you live in the nation that number might go up or down a little bit, so what they do is they give every dollar above seventy grand that they make every year away. ” Isn’t it amazing? Most of us are more concerned on what we do not have. We do not put our mind on what we have and that is the reason for all the suffering. We are never satisfied with what we have and in return we are not happy. Keeping your mind stuck at what you lack is a recipe for life disaster. I am not advocating not to desire for more, but what I am asking is to utilize the power of enough. You need to repeatedly ask the question how much is enough? I know for sure that enough is relative to each person and everyone has their own version of what ‘enough’ is and its prerogative of each person to figure out what is ‘enough’ for him or her. However we should not chase this mirage of having limitless things. There is no end to desire.
We need to stop and decide, for ourselves what enough is? In order to be happy, you need to draw a line for yourself. We need to kill the ‘Pahom’ inside us. Happiness will visit us only when we intrinsically know how much is enough for us. At the same time, what we can’t have enough is the enough greed for humanity, the enough greed for equality and the enough greed for love as rightly said by Pieree “Where love is concerned, too much is not even enough”. Love as much as you can but in materialistic things always ask the question how much is enough? This will keep you grounded, happy and contented. As someone rightly said “a contended mind is a golden medicinal elixir. ” Be contended and use the power of enough to enjoy life.
Concept of Temptation Tolstoy’s Short Story How Much Land Does a Man Need
Leo Tolstoy, a Russian writer, wrote a short story called “How Much Land Does a Man Need” later in his life. The short story is an allegory that was published in 1886. Pakhom, who is a land-hungry peasant, stands for unrestrained greed for land. Tolstoy believed that private ownership of land was wrong and evil later on in his life. This story represents his beliefs of the evils of private ownership of land. “How Much Land Does a Man Need” realistically describes Russian peasant life, but also incorporates elements of the supernatural into its story. It is a tale about a man who is seduced by the works of Satan and is known as a Faust legend. Pakhom has fallen into the trap of the devil and exclaims, “If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the devil himself” (Tolstoy 959). When Pakhom says this, the devil overhears this and claims, “We will have a tussle. I’ll give you land enough; and by means of that land I will get you into my power.” (Tolstoy 959). In order to tempt the greedy Pakhom with more land than he needs, the Devil disguises himself as a wandering peasant, a land dealer (tradesman), and a Bashkir chief.
Pakhom is initially tempted when the Devil appears in the guise of a wandering peasant from beyond the Volga River. Pakhom saw a peasant in the village and invited him in his house for supper. There, the peasant said many people were settling in parts of Volga and that the land was very good there. Pakhom thought to himself that he should sell his current land and buy a homestead down there, “I will sell my land and my homestead here, and with the money I will start afresh over there and get everything new. In this crowded place one is always having trouble.” The devil tempts Pakhom by exclaiming that the land in Volga is much better than his current land, even though he is perfectly fine and comfortable where he is currently. This is the Devil’s first disguise to trick Pakhom into his evil works.
Pakhom is tempted again when the Devil appears in the guise of a passing land dealer from the land of the Bashkirs, who stops at Pakhom’s cabin to get feed for his horses. One day, a land dealer passed by Pakhom’s house and Pakhom talked with him and enjoyed tea. The dealer said he is from the land of the Bashkirs, where he bought thirteen thousand acres of land for a very low cost. The man said that all someone needs to do is make friends with the chiefs, and the chiefs would give out land to their new friends. Pakhom asked the man how to get there, and Pakhom left his wife and traveled to the land of the Bashkirs. Pakhom exclaims, “There now, with my one thousand rubles, why should I get only thirteen hundred acres, and saddle myself with a debt besides? If I take it out there, I can get more than ten times as much for the money.” Pakhom has fallen into the Devil’s trap and is becoming more land-greedy even though he doesn’t really need more land.
Pakhom’s final temptation occurs when the Devil appears in the guise of the Bashkir chief, who accepts Pakhom’s expensive gifts of his best dressing-gown and five pounds of tea. When he arrived at the land of the Bashkirs, Pakhom was greeted with kindness and shared his gifts of tea and other food with the Bashkirs. Pakhom then told them that he is only interested in acquiring some of their land, and the chiefs of the Bashkirs told him that because Pakhom gave them gifts, he could have some of their land for free. Pakhom says, “What pleases me best here, is your land. Our land is crowded and the soil is exhausted; but you have plenty of land and it is good land. I never saw the like of it” Once again, Pakhom falls victim to the guise of the Devil and his temptations further lead him into wanting more and more land.
The disturbing nightmare should have been a warning to Pakhom that he is being seduced by three faces of the Devil, who is appealing to Pakhom’s greed for land. First, Pakhom meets a wandering peasant who says the land is much better in Volga, and Pakom falls victim to this temptation. Next, Pakhom meets a land dealer who tells him of beautiful land in the Bashkirs. Pakhom travels to the land of the Bashkirs and once again falls victim to the Devil. Lastly, when Pakhom encounters the chiefs of the Bashkirs, he presents them with gifts and the chiefs tell him to choose any section of land he would like. For the third time, Pakhom is seduced by the Devil’s tempations into getting more and more land that he really does not need at all.
An Issue of Higher Purpose in Tolstoy’s “My Confession”
A majority of the world’s population spend their entire lives searching for their meaning in life when the answer is clear as day. It is more likely than not that every individual has some sort of religious experience within their lives. Whether it be taught through generations or a sudden awakening, it is a shame that some people have drifted off from that standpoint. A higher purpose, a devotion to God, opens the door to finding the meaning of life which is highlighted in Tolstoy’s “My Confession”. Whereas many individuals go to chase money, beauty, or fame to provoke their sense of success, they fail to see that it is ultimately a distraction from true meaning. Those who believe in materials that are possible to lose, will become so afraid of its vanishment, that it will begin to take over and allow us to suffer. For example, if you believe that your meaning is to be successful and make money, you will be scared of becoming a nobody and poor.
When writing “My Confession”, Tolstoy makes note that, “I felt that what I was standing on had given way, that I had no foundation to stand on, that that which I lived by no longer existed, and that I had nothing to live by…”. Despite all the money, fame and success he worked effortlessly for, Tolstoy felt a bareness within him in which he could not seem to figure out why. It was a sudden realization that materialistic things only create a void in the heart that only God can fill because they heart cannot be touched by anything besides God. He created our souls, hence he is the only one who knows how to mend it. No matter how much we want to believe that we can find meaning through accomplishments, it is obvious that is not the case and can be particularly seen with major celebrities. Take Robin Williams for example; a man of many accomplishments. He was known all around the world for his acting and comedy, he possessed millions of dollars, and had a loving family, yet he took his own life because he was not satisfied with it. It could be argued that he was lost, similarly to Tolstoy who stated, “I experienced the same feeling which a man who has lost his way in the forest may experience”.
I believe that both of them felt a disconnect with themselves due to the fact that they had a disconnect with God. They fail to recognize that their faith cannot be taken away from them no matter the circumstance, unless they choose to stray from it. Therefore, it is safe to say that the idea of a higher purpose gives one a true meaning to life, simply by the fact that it cannot be revoked from us, allowing us to be able to constantly strive to devote ourselves to God.
Illustration of the Process of Dying in Leo Tolstoy’s Novella the Death of Ivan Ilyich
Tolstoy’s novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich presents the life and death of a mild everyman and the fallout of his departure. By undergoing the process of dying Ivan Ilyich concomitantly confronts Angst– his story and the reactions of auxiliary characters in the novella typify ideas presented in the philosophical argument of Heidegger on being-towards-death. Through the process of death Ivan Ilyich is the sole character forced to overcome das gerede (the chatter) for the sake of eigentlichkeit (authenticity). As Ivan embraces the ultimate inevitability of death, the process of dying is liberation from the quazi-significant objects of social merit surrounding him. The constructed reality Ivan Ilyich spent his life subscribing to vanishes, he dies having transcended the common person’s understanding of meaning.
The novella begins by depicting the everydayness that forms the setting of Ivan’s death. Ivan’s death is being discussed leisurely by his colleagues and long time friends. The impersonal discussion highlights two aspects of Heidegger’s argument. First, that “the publicness of everyday being-with-one-another “knows” death as a constantly occurring event… As such it remains in the inconspicuousness characteristic of everyday encounters” (319). Despite Ivan’s young age and unknown ailment, the event of his death is casually accepted seemingly as a necessary condition. The mentality presented is that someone would have died, these men just happen to know who in this instance. The narrator expands on their thoughts, saying, “the mere fact of the death of a near acquaintance aroused, as usual, in all who heard of it the complacent feeling that, “it is he who is dead and not I” (Tolstoy, 2). This sentiment mirrors a stoic phrase of Epicurus, “Why should I fear death? If where I am, death is not. If death is, I am not. Why should I fear that which cannot exist when I do?” Rather than letting this thought process evoke intimations of stoicism however, Heidegger urges that, “The public interpretation of Da-sein says that “one dies” because in this way everybody can convince him/herself that in no case is it I myself, for this one is no one” (Heidegger, 320). Clearly, the men’s attempts at projecting death away from themselves by thinking of it as an indeterminate event “not yet objectively present” is a crude coping mechanism diverting their attention from the significance of their own impending deaths.
Ivan Ilyich’s friends and colleagues are an interesting foil because his death is unmistakably the possibility of any of their deaths. Their lives are nearly interchangeable; they are all government employees, some even schooled together. The men look to each other to establish the objects of their desires– their collective interests are tools for engaging a developed notion of how one should live. They are confirming the validity of each other’s projects through their converging interests. Heidegger notes that “the dying of others is seen often as a social inconvenience, if not a downright tactlessness, from which the publicness should be spared” (321). Indeed this is the case. Peter Ivanovich, Ivan Ilyich’s best friend, remarks what an inconvenience it is to their bridge game that a player should die. Ivanovich’s condolences are brutally selfish and inconsiderate of the reality that Ivan Ilyich is dead. The men do not engage with their death anxiety, their Angst, so it persists to loom over them. Their detachment is not from Ivan, but themselves.
Praskovya Fedorovna’s strict belief in the medicine highlights another of Heidegger’s ideas about being-towards-death. Praskoyva enforces a regiment of medicine onto Ivan Ilyich, despite the fact that he feels no better or worse having taken it. As Ivan continues to decline, Praskovya reprimands her husband to the doctor, stating, “You see he doesn’t listen to me and doesn’ t take his medicine at the proper time. And above all he lies in a position that is no doubt bad for him — with his legs up” (Tolstoy, 37). Neither the medicine, nor the position Ivan Ilyich rests is accountable, clearly. This is Heidegger’s notion that, “in being-with-one-another, the “neighbors” [in this case, Praskovya] often try to convince the “dying person” that he will escape death and soon return to the tranquillized everydayness… this tranquilization is not only for the “dying person” but just as much for “those who are comforting him” (Heidegger, 320-321). Praskoyva is desperately clinging to the faint chance that Ivan will recover fully. The medicine is the object that bridges her desire and the current reality of her husband’s decline. Since the disparity between reality and her expectation is widening, she falsely assigns blame onto Ivan Ilyich. It is easier for Praskovya to blame Ivan for mistakes than it is to accept that his death, and her own, is unavoidable.
The significance of all the ancillary character’s actions is that they determine the complete inauthenticity surrounding Ivan Ilyich. The characters around him exemplify that “being toward the end has the mode of evading that end—reinterpreting it, understanding it inauthentically, and veiling it.” These characters come across as deplorable; Peter Ivanovich is self-centered and views his friendship with Ivan instrumentality, something maintained because he benefits from it. Praskovya is a mean wife who degrades Ivan and has no ability to appreciate him. They are not bad characters though, Heidegger would say they are merely inauthentically living for themselves. Ivan, however, comes to recognize that other people can’t save him from das nichts (the nothing), and this is the major turn of the novella. Ivan’s realization finally leads him to stop living for others, to stop worrying so much about what the people surrounding him think. In his time of dying, Ivan Ilyich is phenomenally adequate.