According to The Death of Ivan Ilyich, why is it important to acknowledge one's own mortality?

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Tolstoy's message, in this story and in most of his later fiction, involves the transience and relatively unimportant nature of earthly life. Ivan Ilyich, in the agony of the final three days before he expires, senses that he has made some fundamental error in the way he's lived his life. This has been, simply, the fact that he, like most people, valued material things. The wrongness of living for possessions and not spiritual values is brought home more emphatically because Tolstoy stresses that Ivan Ilyich was not an unusual or a bad man: his life has been unremarkable, and therefore his fate is "all the more terrible."

Like many (if not most) people, Ivan Ilyich has had the implicit attitude that, somehow, death is not a reality for him. When he becomes ill, his reaction is that something inexplicable is happening to him, when the reality of the situation is that this—illness and death—will happen to everybody. In his case, it just occurs sooner and more rapidly. The principal theme of Tolstoy's novella is, arguably, that salvation consists of recognizing that death is in some way the only thing that has meaning and that earthly life is merely a kind of window dressing. This is what Ivan Ilyich learns in his final hours on earth.

The question remains as to why Tolstoy himself believed this. The implication of his late writings seems to be that the material world is meaningless just because it is impermanent. But ultimately, his view is based not so much on this fact as on his religious beliefs. Tolstoy believed that only way to secure happiness in the next life is to renounce the value of this life.

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Until his malady is revealed as terminal, Ivan Ilyich is a man obsessed with what society expects of him. He marries his wife because it is expected that a man of his status marry. He is a hard worker—not because he loves his work, but because he wants to keep acquiring more and more material things that show off his status.

When he realizes he is going to die, suddenly none of these material things matter. He can't take them along with him in death. Ivan realizes the futility of his life. He lived without love, compassion, or greater meaning.

Tolstoy is saying it is important to recognize and accept one's mortality because it can be easy to lose track of one's life and what is important in it. Death gives what we do a greater sense of urgency, since it could come at any moment.

When Ivan realizes he is not long for this world, he becomes more aware of the lack of love in his life and re-evaluates his values. On his deathbed, he becomes a better, more compassionate and joyful man than he ever was when he was healthy and assuming he'd years and years remaining.

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I think the easiest way to answer this excellent question is through an analysis of the final section of this tremendous short story. Throughout the majority of this tale, Ilyich shows that he is incapable of accepting the finality and inevitability of his own death, which of course is something that parallels the insignificance and pointlessness of his own life and of those around him, most particularly his wife and colleagues. His wife in particular keeps up her rigid social demeanour in the face of her husband's death and treats it as something bordering on an annoyance or an unwelcome distraction.

However, in the final section of this story, Ilyich is able to acknowledge and accept his death, which gives him a moment of epiphany when he is able to see how he has lived his life without any compassion. When he understands this and accepts this, he is able to express his pity and love towards his wife and son, and his fear of death is eradicated in the light of this new self-understanding:

And suddenly it grew clear to him that what had been oppressing him and would not leave him was all dropping away at once from two sides, from ten sides, and from all sides. He was sorry for them, he must act so as not to hurt them: release them and free himself from these sufferings.

Recognising and accepting our own mortality is thus vital for us to understand ourselves and to look upon our lives and how we have lived them accurately. Only by doing this was Ilyich able to understand himself and show love to those around him.

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