The Death of Ivan Ilyich Questions and Answers
by Leo Tolstoy

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What is the moral of "The Death of Ivan Ilyich"?

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Thanh Munoz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Several morals are at the heart of Tolstoy's novella, but the one I'll discuss is the author's message that the material world is basically illusory and meaningless in the long run.

Ivan Ilyich is an ordinary man, and a not a bad man at all. He has led a standard, conventional existence: marrying, having children, and finding success in his working life. This ordinariness is what the author tells us somehow makes his fate "all the more terrible." When a serious disease strikes Ivan Ilyich, he reacts as if an absolutely inexplicable thing has happened. He (like most people, in fact) has never grasped the reality of death. And those around him are the same way. His wife and especially his daughter are remote from the trauma of his illness. None of the family have ever given a thought to non-material concerns. The only person who appears to have empathy for Ivan Ilyich is his servant Gerasim, a young man of rural background. Tolstoy's point, the subtext of Gerasim's difference from the...

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