In "Death of Ivan Ilych" by Tolstoy, what is wrong with Ivan Ilych's marriage?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Tolstoy's great classic "The Death of Ivan Ilych," one of the things that Ivan reconciles at the end of his life is the way he has participated, or not participated, in his marriage. The narrator says that at the beginning the marriage had been fine and enjoyable. It changed when Praskovya became pregnant and moody (today we might say "hormonal" because science has discovered that women's hormones do strange emotional dances during times like pregnancy).

When Praskovya became moody from pregnancy and of necessity also became a bit self-absorbed with perhaps less thought for Ivan, he felt it to be an unpleasant change and chose to distance himself from her and absorb himself in the glories of his work, which he enjoyed for what it was and for the elevated social status it gave in the middle class life of government officials. When their daughter was born, Ivan found the realities of a baby in the house even more unpleasant and withdrew his affections, attention and time even further, viewing Praskovya's pleas that he spend more time with her as bordering on impropriety.

While Ivan wanted the proper appearances of a home and family, he did not want the real unpleasantness and inconvenience associated with the various transitions and stages of life. However, it is these stages, with their awkward bumps and valleys, that give the richness and unity to the external functions of life, the external aspects of life that look so pleasant and proper but which can't offer rewards of love and understanding at important times, like the time of death.

The thing that was wrong with Ivan's marriage was that he had abandoned Praskovya emotionally although he still demanded the appearances of a proprietous and happy home from her and their children.

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The Death of Ivan Ilyich

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