Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a story of sin and redemption. Ivan had been blindly building what he thought was a good and proper life. He had completed his education, landed professional positions with increasing responsibilities and salary, married well, and surrounded himself with the outward signs of wealth—a large estate with handsome and stylish furnishings. However, Ivan’s obsession with work, money, and possessions, and his neglect of his family, brought on Ivan a personal crisis from which he could not recover. Ivan’s physical problems—which began when he fell from a ladder while obsessing over draperies—provoked the spiritual crisis that caused his anguish and eventually led to his death.
Ivan’s suffering, however, prompts a self-examination that leads ultimately to his redemption. That self-examination begins when Ivan asks God why he is allowing Ivan, who believes he has led a pleasant and proper life, to suffer. An inner voice questions whether Ivan has lived a good life, provoking Ivan to review his entire life, from his childhood to the time of his illness. This self-examination results in an epiphany for Ivan, as he realizes the sterility of a life of materialism and meaningless work, a life without love and human contact. On his deathbed, Ivan asks his son’s—and God’s—forgiveness for his errors and accepts his own death. His admission of guilt and acceptance of death relieves his suffering, allowing him to see...
(The entire section is 401 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Death of Ivan Ilyich Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
As the title indicates, Leo Tolstoy’s story concentrates on the death of a very ordinary middle-class person. The second chapter opens with the sentence, “Ivan Ilyich’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible,” which has been called one of the most frightening sentences in all literature. Ivan’s life has been lived according to those middle-class values set by his society. Ivan has always done the correct thing to achieve success; while in school, he did things that disgusted him until he noticed that those in good positions did the same things and did not consider them wrong.
In working at his career, he is punctilious, reserved, completely honest; when he has affairs, they are with women of the best society. He marries, not really for love but because this is what society expects him to do. Everything Ivan does is according to what one should do to rise in society; his values are material values, exemplified by his remodeling his house to look exactly like the homes of others in his social position. His relations with people have the semblance of friendliness, but he never develops any close or deep relationships.
It is not until he experiences his fatal illness that Ivan ever questions his values and his life. Even the cause of his illness—a freak accident that occurred as he was hanging curtains—is insignificant. Ivan comes to the realization that his life has been wasted. It is only with his...
(The entire section is 282 words.)
Tolstoy was plagued for most of his life with a fear of death. He came to realize, as the character of Ivan Ilych demonstrates vividly, that the closeness of death can create a healthy urgency in life. Ivan Ilych only becomes aware of the superficiality of his social propriety because of his proximity to death. He is horrified in knowing that he cannot escape death as he has escaped all other unpleasantness in life—by treating them with a distance and insincerity. Gerasim stands in opposition to this fear in his simple acceptance of death as a part of life. A comparison can be made between the high-class social falsity among which Ivan Ilych has lived and the peasant, or servant, life among which Gerasim has lived. Ivan Ilych has an agonizing death which is only relieved when he accepts death. Gerasim, as he helps the dying man, comments, ‘‘We shall all of us die, so why should I grudge a little trouble?’’ Ivan Ilych’s refusal to accept death mirrors the sterility of most of his life and the lives of his colleagues and wife. They ignore his pain and maintain their social conventions in the face of his eminent death. Ivan Ilych, however, is unable to ignore his own death. ‘‘It,’’ the menacing reality of death, is irrational and goes against the facade of ease and pleasant living in which he has constantly lived and in which those surrounding him still live. Death ultimately forces Ivan Ilych to see the lack of compassion in his...
(The entire section is 862 words.)