What is the rising action, climax, and falling action of the novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are very many instances of rising action in Tolstoy's story. The most important aspect of rising action is that that come just before the climax. Prior to that part of the story, Ilyich, happy about his new prosperity and promotion, eagerly decorates his new home and bruises his kidney. He becomes more and more ill as a result of the injury and is now confined to his sofa and restricted by unbearable pain and mental anguish. The question about whether he might have led his life wrongly leads to him screaming the "O" of "Oh!" for three days.

Suddenly, while screaming and feeling like he is being pushed down into a black sack, he realizes that it might be true, that his life had been wrongly lived, even though was a judge and a respected member of society. He becomes completely silent, listening for the answer to what to do about his wrongly lived life. His hand falls to rest atop the head of Vasya, his little boy, who stands beside him crying for his father. Ilyich opens his eyes, sees his son and feels sorry for him. His wife comes in too, probably responding to Ilyich's sudden silence, and, looking at her, he feels sorry for her too. He tries speaking, saying he is sorry for them and trying to ask forgiveness: "'Take him away...sorry for him...sorry for you too....' He tried to add, 'Forgive me,' but said 'Forego' ...."

The climax comes when, after thinking of their worth and comfort, and after seeking forgiveness, he realizes his mental anguish over the pain and suffering and over his fear of dying is gone:

[He] must act so as not to hurt them: ... "How good and how simple!" he thought. "And the pain?" he asked himself. "What has become of it? Where are you, pain?" ...
"Yes, here it is. Well, what of it? Let the pain be."
"And death...where is it?"
He sought his former accustomed fear of death and did not find it. "Where is it? What death?" ....
In place of death there was light.
"So that's what it is!" he suddenly exclaimed aloud. "What joy!"

The falling action that succeeds this epiphany climax (epiphany: moment of spiritual revelation) is short and simple: Ivan Ilyich dies. He dies quietly with those whom he forgives and who forgive him gathered around him.

For those present his agony continued for another two hours. Something rattled in his throat, ... [and] became less and less frequent.
"It is finished!" said someone near him.
He heard these words and repeated them in his soul.
"Death is finished," he said to himself. "It is no more!"
He drew in a breath, stopped in the midst of a sigh, stretched out, and died.

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The Death of Ivan Ilyich

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