The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ivan Ilyich Golovin

Ivan Ilyich Golovin (ih-VAHN ihl-YIHCH goh-LOH-vihn), a prominent judge. A genial and conscientious lawyer, the popular Ivan Ilyich hides from reality under a cloak of decorum. Obtaining an excellent appointment in St. Petersburg, he finds there a house and an ordered routine exactly to his taste. He feels that life is, at last, just as it should be. Then he learns that he is the victim of a fatal disease. Facing death, he is forced to look, for the first time, at the truth about his life. Only as he becomes aware of the real meaning of his past decisions does he free himself from the fear of death.

Praskovya Fedorovna Golovina

Praskovya Fedorovna Golovina (prahs-KOH-vyah FYOH-do-rov-nah goh-LOH-vih-nah), Ivan Ilyich Golovin’s wife. Dissatisfied with the role her husband has chosen for her, she becomes demanding and quarrelsome and, finally, isolated from him. Only in death does her husband become aware of her as a person deserving pity and forgiveness.

Gerasim

Gerasim (geh-RAH-sihm), Ivan Ilyich Golovin’s peasant servant boy. In his candid admission of the reality and naturalness of death, and with his honesty and clean young strength, Gerasim comforts and cares for his master through his last illness.

Peter Ivanovitch

Peter Ivanovitch (ih-VAH-no-vihch), Ivan Ilyich Golovin’s colleague. Under a show of observing the proper protocol, Peter hides his true feelings about the dying and dead Ivan Ilyich.

Characters

(Short Stories for Students)

Praskovya Fedorovna
Ivan Ilych’s wife, Praskovya Fedorovna, is never emotionally intimate with her husband, though they both desire the same lifestyle. They take pride in their new house, which embodies the propriety and class in which they want to live. When she first became pregnant, Ivan complained that she deliberately caused scenes and easily became jealous. Instead of dealing with his wife’s emotions, Ivan ignored them. Praskovya ultimately reciprocates her husband’s distant coldness. She indulges in extreme self-pity but believes herself to be very tolerant of her dying husband’s moans. As her husband is dying, however, Praskovya does not acknowledge the seriousness of his situation. She chastises him for not taking his medicine and suggests that he see more doctors. At his funeral she is preoccupied with maintaining the proper persona of the grieving widow as she asks Peter Ivanovich if he thinks it possible for her to get money from the government to help her financially after her husband’s death.

Fyodor
See Fedor Vasilievich

Gerasim
Gerasim is a Russian peasant with whom Ivan Ilych takes much comfort during the last days of his life. He is a servant of the house and selflessly and compassionately acts as sick nurse for Ivan, often elevating the dying man’s legs throughout the night. Like Ivan’s youngest son, Gerasim does not display the fake and shallow propriety that Ivan comes to resent in his wife, daughter, and doctor during his final days. As a peasant, Gerasim accepts death as a natural element in the cycle of life and does not feel the need to politely ignore the fact that his master is dying. He grants Ivan his last wishes without resentment, and regards him as a necessary and acceptable part of society, rather than a burden.

Ivan Ilych
Ivan Ilych had a pleasant early life, as he studied law and quickly became a professional. He is applauded for his ability both to be career-minded and to maintain a lightheartedness which allows his life to flow smoothly. He has a moderate disposition that was more balanced than that of his two brothers: one is very serious, while the other is too extravagant. Ivan marries an acceptable woman, Praskovya Fedorovna, and attains a respectable position in his career, first working with the governor and later as an examining magistrate. He considers his marriage a matter of convenience and is not in love with his wife. He realizes that marriage altogether is a troublesome venture when his wife eventually has children and becomes disagreeable. Ivan’s life...

(The entire section is 1,439 words.)