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The Death of Ivan Ilych

This paper will discuss the novella The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy. One of the basic themes of this story is that of "loneliness in the face of death" (Cain 4). It can be seen that the mediocrity of Ivan Ilych's life has done little to prepare him for the unexpected shock of dying. At the very end of the novella, Ivan Ilych undergoes a transformation during which he comes to an acceptance of death and realizes that his entire life has been one of avoiding other people. Thus, the intense loneliness suffered by Ivan Ilych is due to his attitude toward life, in which he always placed the highest value on work, career and material possessions while rejecting the real life needs of his family and others. Tolstoy makes it clear that this fault in Ivan Ilych's life exists in virtually everyone's life, with the only exception being seen in the character of the servant Gerasim.

The structuring of the plot in Tolstoy's novella serves to emphasize this basic theme. At the beginning of the story, Ivan Ilych is already dead. Before the actual story of Ivan Ilych's life is told, the reader is first shown the various reactions of the people who figured in his life. From these reactions, it becomes apparent that the man had lived a lonely and empty life which was dominated by great pain and suffering toward the end. In addition, the hypocrisy of those people is evident from the opening pages of the story. For example, when Peter Ivanovich tells his colleagues about Ivan Ilych's death, they all think "Well, he's dead but I'm alive!" and then begin " . . . thinking also that they would now have to fulfil the very tiresome demands of propriety by attending the funeral service and paying a visit of condolence to the widow" (Tolstoy 97). In addition, these colleagues seem less concerned with the tragedy of Ivan Ilych's death than with the possible changes in their own careers which might result from his death. Another example of hyp...

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The Death of Ivan Ilych. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 23:27, December 13, 2019, from