Death Of Ivan Illych Story Essay

The short story, “The Death of Ivan Ilych”, written by Leo Tolstoy, is
about the reactions of a man and his friends to his suffering and death.

Everyone who knows Ivan including Ivan himself has led a life of total
disconcern for the feelings and sufferings of others. They all lead shallow
lives not daring to probe into the feelings deep down inside for fear of
stepping outside the lines of propriety. That is the biggest rule that people of
that society follow. Do not say or show what you are thinking. Ivan Ilych’s
attitude toward life is the same all the way up to his death. He was as the
author put it, “…a capable, good-natured, and social man, though strict
in the fulfillment of what he considered his duty: and he considered his duty to
be what was so considered by those in authority.” (p. 1088) That quote
states that Ivan was solely concerned with his duties and his advancement in
position by following the orders of his authorities. Ivan was son of a
successful man who held many positions in many departments. That man, Ilya
Epimovich Golovin, had three sons. The oldest followed his father’s example and
was a success. The youngest son was a total failure. He had blown many
opportunities and was the shame of the family. Ivan the middle son was the
better of the two. Ivan was a mix of his two brothers. He had the hard-working
spirit of the older brother but also appreciates the value of a good time like
the younger brother. Ivan’s career grew steadily. In a short time, he eventually
obtained the position of examining magistrate. Ivan did very well in this
position. He excelled in the separation of the personal duties in his life and
the official duties to which he was totally dedicated. This taste of power which
came with his new position was very appealing to Ivan. The idea that writing a
few words or giving a simple command sent people into motion made Ivan very
happy. Upon moving to a new town to take up the position of examining
magistrate, Ivan met his future wife, Praskovya Fedorovna Mikhel. Ivan saw her
as a “…well connected, and was a sweet, pretty, and thoroughly correct
young woman.” The view that she was so within the lines of propriety was
the most attractive feature which this young woman possessed in Ivan’s view. At
first the marriage which Ivan thought couldn’t hurt his pleasure-seeking life
didn’t, then according to Ivan she began to disturb the pleasure and propriety
of his life. This ordeal only worsened when his wife became pregnant. She became
unbearable to him, overly jealous and coarse, becoming an obstacle to his
pursuit of happiness and properness. When the child was born, Ivan realized that
a life totally separate his family life would be necessary to fulfill the goals
he set for himself. He also came to the realization that to keep his marriage in
order that he was going to have to adopt the same attitude to his family that he
has to his official duties. Ivan developed an attitude towards his family of
complete indifference as stated in the story, “He only required of it those
conveniences—dinner at home, housewife, and bed—which it could give
him.” (p. 1092) More children arrived and his wife’s attitude only
worsened. After three years and becoming a highly looked upon official he
received a promotion to the position of Assistant Public Prosecutor. This new
promotion made Ivan like his job even more. Meanwhile, more children were born
which made Ivan’s life even more difficult. After getting another promotion and
moving to another province, the marriage was getting increasingly difficult. To
try and overcome this Ivan decided to spend some time in the country with his
wife. This move turns out to be a very bad one. Ivan falls into deep depression
and decides that some drastic measures are needed. He returns from the country
heading towards St. Petersburg with the objective of obtaining a salary of 5,000
rubles a year. Things worked out very much in his favor. He got a promotion two
steps above his former position. After obtaining this position, he returned to
the country and his marriage life improved immensely. Ivan then proceeded to the
province to which they were moving to attempt to locate a house. He found one
which suited his tastes perfectly. Ivan turned his attention towards furnishing
his house. He searched for all the things which give his house an air of
aristocracy and yet not too snobbish. While showing an upholsterer how he wanted
the drapes hung, Ivan fell and nearly caught himself but unfortunately managed
to hit himself in the side and give himself a large bruise. This is when the
health problems begin. The illness began slowly but the pain steadily increased.

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Ivan visited many doctors, but none of them could give him a solid diagnosis.

The pain caused many problems in his life, most of all it interfered with how he
did his job. People began to look down upon him. No one really felt sympathy for
Ivan. The people whom he called his friends treated him the same as he treated
them in his life, with total indifference. Even Ivan’s own wife treated his
illness as a burden and a trouble. He begins to realize how everyone is treating
him. All that he wants is pity and there is no one there to give him it besides
his servant Gerasim. Ivan shows spots of beginning to realize how he treated
life. He treated life with the utmost propriety and tried his very best not to
let his emotions get in the way of how he acted and performed his duty. This
shows when Ivan says, “What if my whole life has really been wrong?”(p.

1117) Ivan says this while looking at Gerasim peacefully sleeping at his side,
the only one who shows the slightest bit of pity and sorrow for him. Ivan’s wife
is falsely concerned in his condition merely because that is the thing for her
to be in this situation. She does not really care if he makes it; she is only
worried about the inconvenience his suffering is putting her through and the
financial bind his death puts her in. Ivan realizes all these things and cannot
even bear to speak with her. He thinks to himself, “Yes, I am making them
wretched…They are sorry, but it will be better for them when I die.” (p.

1119) All of these things lead up to the conclusion in Ivan’s mind that he is
sorry for them. He is trying to act so as not to hurt them. In the final scene
someone besides his servant, Gerasim, begins to show pity for him, it is his
son. Ivan sees the sorrow and pity in his eyes and apologizes to him for causing
this grief. With this story, Leo Tolstoy shows that a man can change. That even
if it must be through pain and suffering that everyone is capable of redemption.

If a man such as Ivan Ilych who never cared for anyone more than necessary can
be redeemed and see the fault in his ways then anyone can. The most selfish man
can be changed if people show him pity and feel for him, as he should feel for
others. It stirred something inside Ivan when people went out of their way to
attempt to comfort him. It made him realize his faults and want to change.


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