The Death of Ivan Ilyich

by Leo Tolstoy

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What is the function of marriage as revealed in the story "The Death of Ivan Ilyich"?

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In this tremendous story we are presented with a man who follows his life trying to do what he feels is expected of him by society. Ivan Ilyich only establishes "light and playful relations" with his future wife and does not even think of anything more serious than a dalliance until it becomes obvious that she has fallen in love with him. It is only then that he asks himself, "Really, why shouldn't I mary?" Note his reasoning for doing so:

To say that Ivan Ilyich married because he fell in love with Praskovya Fedorovna and found that she sympathised with his views of life would be as incorrect as to say that he married because his social circle approved of the match. He was swayed by both these considerations: the marriage gave him personal satisfaction, and at the same time it was considered the right thing by the most highly placed of his associated.

Marriage is therefore seen as a social obligation and a means of gaining wealth, property and social status. It is only when his wife becomes pregnant that Ivan Ilyich discovers the need to distance himself as much as possible from his wife and family to continue indulging in his lifestyle as he desires.

Thus marriage is viewed as an institution that has very little to do with love, and where the concerns of social status and expectations are far more important. Ivan Ilyich's wife shows little remorse or grief over her husband's death and instead seizes every opportunity to try and extract as much money out of his demise as possible.

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