The Death of Ivan Ilyich

by Leo Tolstoy

Start Free Trial

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

The rising action of the story is represented by Ilyich's ascent to prosperity and his promotion. He is happy about that and about his new house and he has the accident that bruises his kidney. The climax of the story, when Ilyich realizes his life was wrongly lived, comes after the injury. His mental anguish over pain and fear of dying disappears after this epiphany moment. The falling action is represented by his death, which is quiet with all those whom he forgives around him.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the exposition, complication (rising action), climax, anti-climax, and denouement of The Death of Ivan Ilyich?

Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Illych follows the following plot outline:

Exposition: We see Ivan's life as "climbing a ladder."  He's a "cog in a machine," a good member of a Czarist Russian bourgeoisie, getting married, having children--but totally unhappy, spiritually unfulfilled.

Complication: We realize he's dying spiritually.  We realize that he's been living a life based only on social expectations, an unfulfilled life, never developing meaningful relationships with family or friends.  It's all about money, status, possessions.

Turing point: He falls while CLIMBING A LADDER and HANGING DRAPES, symbolic that his life has been a climbing of the rungs of the social ladder.  There's a shift in the verb tense from past to present. Death becomes real.Life is being lived for the first time, ironically, in death.

Anti-climax / falling action: the doctors and his friends are no help; they only make suffering worse.

Resolution: Ivan must come to terms with the fact that his senseless life caused his ridiculous death.

Denouement: Tolstoy presents his worldview:

  • Ivan must let go of all justification of his life.
  • He has a major revelation
  • He starts to feel universal compassion for people whom he had been hating.
  • He dies content--this compassion sets him free from the hate, jealousy, and pettiness that had been holding him back.
  • The moral center of the work is the servant, Gerásim, a member of the peasant class
  • This works as a metaphor for Tolstoy's brand of Christianity
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on