The Death of Ivan Ilyich

by Leo Tolstoy

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In The Death of Ivan Ilych, would you call Ivan somewhat of a religious man? Sum up his goals in life, his attitude, and his values. How do they change in the story?

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No, Ivan is not a religious man, but upon his death he has an epiphany which transforms him. He lived a normal life, trying to follow the middle-class expectations of success.  He really didn't love his wife, and his values were materialistic, exemplified by him remodeling his house to look exactly like the homes of others in his social position. His relations with people have the semblance of friendliness, but he never develops any close or deep relationships.Only on his deathbed does he question this, as he begins to think about his family more than himself, resolving to act "so as not to hurt” his family . . . .to release them and free himself.”This gives him joy and peace, which Tolstoy links to Ivan’s new commitment to love and pity.  Here, then, we arrive at the major religious theme of this story:the discovery of God through the discovery of a selfless love of others.  It is significant that Ivan’s new consciousness emerges after a final period of “three whole days, during which time did not exist for him.”  Some critics think that this time suggests the period between Christ’s death and resurrection. Critics also suggest that Ivan's "fall" parallels Adam and Eve's fall in that both are fortunate because they ultimately allow the individuals to achieve a state of grace--a deeper knowledge not previously accessible. 

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