The Death of Ivan Ilyich Critical Overview - Essay

Leo Tolstoy

Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

Though ‘‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’’ was Tolstoy’s first piece of fiction after his spiritual conversion, and many critics have thought his post-conversion writing to be less art and more moralizing, this particular short novel has been respected as an intriguing work. Dennis Vannatta confirms this view when he states that, in ‘‘The Death of Ivan Ilych,’’ ‘‘the two phases meet in one of the most memorable short stories ever written.’’ This deeply affecting story has been Tolstoy’s most-praised post-conversion work, a topic of discussion, along with Tolstoy’s other major works, in literary courses and critical discourse. As Edward Wasiolek remarks in Tolstoy’s Major Fiction, ‘‘The story is great enough to support the weight of different critical perspectives. It has the ‘transparency’ that Roland Barthes has put forth as a mark of the greatest works of literature, permitting us to speak about it with the different critical languages of time, place, and critical intelligence.’’ The fact that ‘‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’’ is still meaningful today and is discussed within modern literary theory once again demonstrates its artistic merit.

The last moments of Ivan Ilych’s life seem to be a common focus for many critics. What is the light that Ivan Ilych sees as he is about to die? Most critics agree that after Tolstoy takes such pains in structuring the narrative, demonstrating the pathetic shallowness of Ivan Ilych’s existence only after ironically depicting the same shallow attitudes of his colleagues and wife, his last dying moments take on a...

(The entire section is 657 words.)