Leo Tolstoy The Death of Ivan Ilyich
2. Ivan Ilyich is a common man rather than a noble. To what degree is Ivan an interesting literary protagonist? How does (or doesn’t) his suffering and death speak to the condition of all human beings?
People hear about death every day, though it usually appears in their lives only like a random announcement in the media. The way human beings usually perceive the end is that death is something that happens to everyone except me. In addition, the majority of people do not realize the sense of their lives. Ivan Ilyich, the protagonist of Leo Tolstoy’s story, is not an exception. He was an ordinary man, who used to pay attention to the joy of life rather than to its sense. Only when the death was near, he understood that he made too many mistakes in his life and everything went wrong. The image of Ivan Ilyich can be called a classical literary protagonist whose problems are still urgent to people nowadays.
Tolstoy writes: “Ivan Ilyich’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and, therefore, most terrible” (Tolstoy 15). His entire life was determined by the expectations of the bourgeois society and the desire not to be worse than others. Ivan Ilyich did not make attempts to create something except keeping up appearances. When he had understood that his death was inevitable, he came to the conclusion that the whole life was in vain. He said:
It is as if I had been going downhill while I imagined I was going up. And that is really what it was. I was going up in public opinion, but to the same extent life was ebbing away from me. And now it is all done and there is only death (Tolstoy n.p).
Nowadays many people live their lives like Tolstoy’s protagonist. They study hard in order to climb the social ladder and earn a lot of money. Some people do not study just because they cannot imagine themselves reading and overcoming their weaknesses. The question why it is necessary to earn a lot is fully described in the story. People want to buy the house, to create the atmosphere not worse than in the homes of their friends, the feeling of jealousy, competition and greed overwhelms them. In addition, they fall in love with those, who might be certainly approved by the society. The appearance has always played a significant role in the society, and the inner characteristics such as kindness, intelligence and good manners were left unnoticed. Modern people tend to perceive everything and everyone from the market point of view. There are two kinds of roles in the society: the seller of the product and the consumer. There is no need to mention that the inner sense and the desire to create something new is taken into account.
1. Leo Tolstoy raises several important themes in the story The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The first theme is the artificial life in the bourgeois society. The second theme that is closely related to the previous one is that the inner life of the soul should be prior to the outer life of the body. The third theme is the remorse and rebirth through death. Tolstoy uses the idea of the light in the end, which symbolizes that the person can clear him/herself and become better after experiencing a special ritual. Mark Freeman notes:
Tolstoy’s book is about many things: the tyranny of bourgeois niceties, the terrible weak spots of the human heart, the primacy and elision of death. But more than anything, I would offer, it is about the consequences of living without meaning, that is, without a true and abiding connection to one’s life (Freeman 373–398).
The story of life and death of Ivan Ilyich can be easily referred to the lives of the majority of modern people. Perhaps, it is better to think about the sense of life when you are young, therefore there is chance to live a decent life.
Freeman, Mark. “Death, Narrative Integrity, and the Radical Challenge of Self-Understanding: A Reading of Tolsto’ys ‘Death of Ivan Ilyich.” Ageing & Society. (2000): 373–398. Print.
Lezard, Nicholas. The Death of Ivan Ilyich/The Devil by Leo Tolstoy – Review. The Guardian. (2011), Web.
Papadimos, Thomas J, Stawicki, Stanislaw. “The death of Ivan Ilych: A Blueprint for Intervention at the End of Life.” International Journal of Critical Illness and Injury Science. (2011): 125–128. Web.
Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Penguin Red: Classic edition, 2006.