The Death of Ivan Ilyich Additional Summary

Leo Tolstoy


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story begins with the news of Ivan Ilyich’s death reported by his closest acquaintance from law school, Piotr Ivanovich. When his coworkers hear the news, their immediate reaction is one of self-centered concern over their possible promotions and other changes that Ivan’s death might bring about in their own lives. Only after these considerations do the dead man’s so-called friends think of the tiresome duties of attending the funeral and consoling the widow.

Giving up his usual nap to attend the wake, Piotr, meeting his bridge partner at the widow’s house, takes the time to arrange for their regular game that evening after viewing the body. Then Ivan’s widow, Praskovya Fyodorovna, escorts him into a room for a private talk, in which she, too, dwells on her own concerns, telling him how much she suffered through Ivan’s screaming for the three days before he died. Her main interest in speaking with Piotr, however, is to find out whether and how she might get extra money from the government because of Ivan’s death. On hearing his opinion that there is nothing she can do, she loses interest in their conversation, and Piotr takes his leave.

The first of twelve chapters sets Leo Tolstoy’s tone, which mixes grotesque humor with the somber reality of death coming to a respected minor functionary—an ordinary death of an ordinary man (the name Ivan Ilyich is as common in Russian as is the name John Smith in English). In describing the family’s and friends’ reactions to Ivan’s death, the narrative concentrates on their obsession with their own lives and petty comforts and their disregard for the deceased.

The next section, chapters 2 through 5, recounts the life and career of Ivan. The second and most successful of three sons of a minor official, he had risen to the position of examining magistrate and married a proper girl as the “right thing” to do. His married life did not, however, meet his expectations: His wife turned unaccountably jealous and ill-humored, and several of his children died. Ivan retreated steadily into his work, becoming progressively more aloof at home.

Finding his only consolation in the dignity and social activities attached to the official world of the magistrate, Ivan suffered a particularly heavy...

(The entire section is 938 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

During a break in a hearing, a group of lawyers gathers informally. One, Peter Ivanovitch, interrupts the good-natured arguing of the others with the news that Ivan Ilyich, a colleague they greatly respect, is dead. Unwittingly, each thinks first of what this death means to his own chances of promotion, and each cannot help feeling relief that it is Ivan Ilyich and not himself who died.

That afternoon, Peter Ivanovitch visits the dead man’s home, where the funeral is to be held. Although he meets a playful colleague, Schwartz, he attempts to behave as correctly as possible under such sorrowful circumstances, as if by observing the proper protocol he can persuade himself into the proper feelings. He looks respectfully at the corpse and talks with Ivan’s widow, Praskovya Fedorovna, but he is continually distracted during his talk by an unruly spring in the hassock on which he sits. While he struggles to keep his decorum, Praskovya speaks only of her own exhaustion and suffering. Peter, suddenly terrified by their mutual hypocrisy, longs to leave; once the widow pumps him for information about her pension, she, too, is glad to end the conversation. At the funeral, Peter sees Ivan’s daughter and her fiancé, who are angrily glum, and Ivan’s little son, who is tear-stained but naughty. Only the servant boy, Gerasim, speaks cheerfully, for he is the only one who can accept death as natural. Peter leaves and hurries to his nightly card game.

Ivan Ilyich was the second and most successful of the three sons of a superfluous bureaucrat. An intelligent and popular boy, he seemed able to mold his life into a perfect pattern. As secretary to a provincial governor after completing law school, and later as an examining magistrate, he was the very model of conscientiousness mingled with good humor. He managed the decorum of his official position as well as the ease of his social one. Only marriage, although socially correct, did not conform to his ideas of decorum; his wife, not content to fulfill the role he chose for her, became demanding and quarrelsome. As a result, he increasingly shut himself off from his family (which grew with two children) and found the order and peace he needed in his judiciary affairs.

In 1880, however, he was shattered by the loss of two promotions. In desperation, he went to St. Petersburg, where a chance meeting led to his obtaining a miraculously good appointment. In the city, he found precisely the house he always wanted, and he worked to furnish it to his taste. Even a fall and a resulting...

(The entire section is 1042 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’’ opens with Ivan Ilych’s colleagues discussing cases in Shebek’s private room. Amidst...

(The entire section is 1963 words.)