The Death of Ivan Ilyitch
by Leo Tolstoy
'The Death of Ivan Ilyitch' Summary
Ivan Ilyich lives a carefree life that is "most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible". Like everyone he knows, he spends his life climbing the social ladder. Enduring marriage to a woman whom he often finds too demanding, he works his way up to be a magistrate, thanks to the influence he has over a friend who has just been promoted, focusing more on his work as his family life becomes less tolerable.
While hanging curtains for his new home one day, he falls awkwardly and hurts his side. Though he does not think much of it at first, he begins to suffer from a pain in his side. As his discomfort grows, his behavior towards his family becomes more irritable. His wife finally insists that he visit a physician. The physician cannot pinpoint the source of his malady, but soon it becomes clear that his condition is terminal. Confronted with his diagnosis, Ivan attempts every remedy he can to obtain a cure for his worsening situation, until the pain grows so intense that he is forced to cease working and spend the remainder of his days in bed. Here, he is brought face to face with his mortality and realizes that, although he knows of it, he does not truly grasp it.
During the long and painful process of dying, Ivan dwells on the idea that he does not deserve his suffering because he has lived rightly. If he had not lived a good life, there could be a reason for his pain; but he has, so pain and death must be arbitrary and senseless. As he begins to hate his family for avoiding the subject of his death, for pretending he is only sick and not dying, he finds his only comfort in his peasant boy servant, Gerasim, the only person in Ivan's life who does not fear death, and also the only one who, apart from his own son, shows compassion for him. Ivan begins to question whether he has, in fact, lived a good life.
In the final days of his life, Ivan makes a clear split between an artificial life, such as his own, which masks the true meaning of life and makes one fear death, and an authentic life, the life of Gerasim. Authentic life is marked by compassion and sympathy, the artificial life by self-interest. Then "some force" strikes Ivan in the chest and side, and he is brought into the presence of a bright light. His hand falls onto his nearby son's head, and Ivan pities his son. He no longer hates his daughter or wife, but rather feels pity for them, and hopes his death will release them. In so doing, his terror of death leaves him, and as Tolstoy suggests, death itself disappears.
Born to an aristocratic Russian family in 1828, Tolstoy is best known for the novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1878),often cited as pinnacles of realist fiction. He first achieved litera...More on Leo Tolstoy
- Select Speed
The Judgment of Eve by May Sinclair
It explores the complexities of human relationships and the consequences of our choices. The book was first published in 1913 and is considered a clas...
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Gambler is a short novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky about a young tutor in the employment of a formerly wealthy Russian general. The novella reflects Do...
Oldtown Folks by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Oldtown Folks is an 1869 novel written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It is written from the first-person perspective of a young man named Horace Holyoke,...
Life and Death of Harriett Frean by May Sinclair
Harriett Frean is a well-to-do, unmarried woman living a life of meaningless dependency, boredom, and unproductivity as she patiently cares for her ag...
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
It follows the story of four generations of the Buddenbrook family, beginning in the mid-19th century and ending in the early 20th century. The novel...
Snarled Identities by Nicholas Carter
This book delves into the complexities of human nature, exploring the intricate web of identities that shape our lives. Penned with great depth and i...
The Death of the Lion by Henry James
This short novel is a black comedy about fame, manipulation, pretension, and surviving it all. The narrator, a reprehensible and seedy journalist, set...
The Tribulations of a Chinaman in China by Jules Verne
The story is about a rich Chinese man, Kin-Fo, who is bored with life, and after some business misfortune decides to die.
Master and Man by Leo Tolstoy
"Master and Man" is an 1895 short story by Leo Tolstoy.
Pillar of Fire by Ray Bradbury
The story explores the idea of a society that has rejected creativity, imagination, and the unknown. In "Pillar of Fire," Bradbury paints a bleak pic...
Reviews for The Death of Ivan Ilyitch
No reviews posted or approved, yet...