In "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," what is implied by Tolstoy's narrator calling those around Ivan, not friends, but "nearest acquaintances?"

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Leo Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" is a story which describes the life and death of Ivan Ilyich. In part one of the text, Ivan's coworkers are told of his death. While many are surprised that a man as young as he has died, many others are far more concerned with the position which will now open up within the company. Readers are shown, through this, that Ivan was not necessarily disliked, but those around him were far more concerned with how they could ultimately benefit from his death.

It seems that many of the people around him were acquaintances and not friends. This is specifically shown when the following line appears:

Fedor Vasilievich and Peter Ivanovich had been his nearest acquaintances. Peter Ivanovich had studied law with Ivan Ilych and had considered himself to be under obligations to him.

This quote illuminates the fact that Ivan did not have any real friends. Instead, he only had acquaintances. Ivanovich only attends Ivan's funeral service in order to try to get his brother in law Ivan's old job. A true friend would not use a funeral to better the individual or his or her family.

Over the course of the funeral, talk is only made of obtaining better employment, financial betterment, and who wants Ivan's old position. Essentially, no one is truly concerned for Ivan or his family. True friends would be.


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