Tolstoy is very clear in this novel that materialism and social climbing are to be abhorred, but all the same he explains why materialism is attractive. Throughout the entirety of Tolstoy's novel, the characters are drawn to materialism because it affords them pleasure and status: they want to be seen as significant in society and to live in a way which, while artificial, gives them instant gratification.
Ivan is the exemplar of the middle-class person over-concerned with ownership and being seen to own things. He likes to impress others with what he has bought: for example, he buys a house in St Petersburg and furnishes it beautifully—but, in the end, his house looks just like every other house.
In reality it was just what is usually seen in the houses of people of moderate means who want to appear rich, and therefore succeed only in resembling others like themselves . . . His house was so like the others that it would never have been noticed, but to him it all seemed to be quite...
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