Researching the Themes of The Death of Ivan Ilych

When we mention the name of Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, everybody recalls his monumental works, “War and Peace”, “Anna Karenina”, though all the life Tolstoy wrote short stories and novels.
Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, indeed one of the world’s greatest novelists. His writings profoundly influenced much of 20th-century literature. Tolstoy achieved great literary fame during his lifetime, both in Russia and abroad. Literary realism perhaps reached its peak in Tolstoy’s novels, but it is his penetrating psychological analysis that has had profound influence on later literature. Short stories and novels precede epos; pave the way to the novels, made reader acquainted with the deep philosophical and esthetical world of the author. Short stories and novels are more close to the real experience of the Tolstoy’s life. Their plots are always based on the real episode of the author’s life. Tolstoy just wrapped them into the cloth of his own ideals, philosophy and moral. The author shaped them without distorting much the present day reality. “I… tried to write just from my heart”, said Tolstoy.
In the mid-1880s Leo Nikolayevich produced powerful and sophisticated pieces of fiction, such as the short novels The Death of Ivan Ilich, and Master and Man, which reflect his religious, social and philosophical ideas. The heroes of these works are forced to re-examine their lives and values when they face death.
A man in the novel “The Death of Ivan Ilich” is in the centre of attention, he breaks the shabby traditions of his society. The novel possesses the features of the tragic farce. The characters commit a lot of senseless deeds, without realizing the significance. Ivan Ilich doesn’t know tat he is a character of the novel. He doesn’t realize he is supposed to die. That makes the reader tensely follow his lifeline. Author explores themes, which are really fascinating reader’s attention. Solitude, fate, inevitability of death, failure of marriage, hypocrisy, god… That is the short list of the author’s ideas. Author, just staffed the novel with such philosophy, so any word and thought has sense.
The philosophy of Tolstoy resembles Nietzsche’s ideas. He contemplates inevitability of death very much alike. But the difference appears in the fact that Ivan Ilich never thought of death before. He noticed it just in time she knocked at his door. And the example of syllogism “Kay – is a human, humans are mortal, so Kay is mortal”, seemed correct just against Kay. Everything he does is in vain; death will anyway take its tall. The slogan oh his death becomes “So horrible and so silly”. He lost his life trying to decorate the hall. That is the tragic farce of Ivan Ilich’s life.
Solitude!!! This word penetrates the world of Ivan Ilich, as soon as he gets ill. He re-examines his life and begins to understand that he loves nobody and nobody loves him. His colleagues are indifferent to him, even after the death no thought of regret occurs to them. There thoughts are far from sympathy, sinking deeply in the predator’s speculations. He realizes that he has no friends and never had. Moreover the far he plunged into the illness, the clearer he realized that he hates everyone, he hates his wife, daughter, doctors who can’t heal him and he life itself. Only two people differ much. They are his little son, who really appears to love him and Grasim – a servant.
Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy always had a special opinion concerning family and religion. All the family life of Ivan Ilich was penetrated with lies, falsity and hypocrisy. Tolstoy explores the idea of groundlessness of the marriage typical of that time. The fact that the central character never loved his wife seems just obvious in the society, is unacceptable to the author, and the hate that Ivan Ilich feels to his wife is easily explained, by describing her behavior. She wares that false mask of the careful and anxious wife, but really she doesn’t care of nothing except her dressing.
On his death bed Ivan Ilich understands that all his life was empty and senseless, however he did everything right! He tried to live a successful life of a mundane person and worthy representative of the society he lives in. He always wanted to live as all normal people. He always was an example of worthy honest and descent person. Did nothing wrong. But anyway the only his reflections which came to his mind were related to his childhood.
Tolstoy, gradually displays a full sense of the tragic and at the same time comic metaphor of the life. The life of Ivan Ilich is court. The sides of “defense” and “prosecution”. He was a judge himself and used to pronounce sentences. And once he noticed that doctor treats him like a judge. “Everything was just the same way as in court”. This parallel goes deep into the novel. He was accused this time. And this is an unusual situation he has to deal with. “The judge is coming, the judge is coming, - repeated he! But I’m not guilty! Why?” And he heard this scream a lot of times in the court.
And finally, if the life of Ivan Ilich was empty, his death is full of deep sense. The alienation of the person in his own society, suddenly realized solitude, and the feeling of leading a fast and senseless life – all are the greatest psychological foundations of Tolstoy. Who was the first one who showed the critical turning point of one’s life, when the life is reevaluated.
This book is an exposure of everything society says is important - wealth, stability, reputation, family. It is a challenge to all who would die well, to make the most of the little time we have and live a life that counts, a life that has sense, a life that is real. No writer has ever depicted the human psychology more brilliantly than Leo Tolstoy. His detailed examinations of motive and emotion speak to us across years and cultural barriers because of the universality of his themes.

1. Leo Tolstoy. THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYCH. New York:Blue Unicorn Editions, 2001.
2. Hugh McLean (Afterword), Leo Tolstoy. The Death of Ivan Ilych And Other Stories. Chicago: Signet Classics, 2003.
Leo Tolstoy, Robert Blaisdell. Tolstoy As Teacher: Leo Tolstoy’s Writings on Education New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2000.

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