The Death of Ivan Ilyich

by Leo Tolstoy

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What is the importance of the setting, tone, symbol, and the message of the writer?

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The setting is late nineteenth century in Petersburg and the surrounding Russian provinces and cities, and the novel is told from the point of view of the omniscient narrator, although action occasionally progresses from Ivan's point of view. The tone is frequently satirical and mocking; subtly pedagogical with themes of the right life; the inevitability of death; inner life vs. outer life. The black sack is a symbol. The novel is significant for its universally powerful portrayal of a man’s physical deterioration and subsequent spiritual rejuvenation at the moment of death, and because it is the first fiction which Tolstoy published after his conversion to radical Christianity. Several critics note a shift in his writing after his spiritual breakdown in the 1870s, which inspired him to write primarily on religious and philosophical issues while repudiating his earlier works. ‘‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’’ perfectly demonstrates this introspection as it magnifies a man’s struggle with how to live his life. This is the important message that Tolstoy is attempting to convey to his reader.

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