The initial impression of The Death of Ivan Ilyich leads the reader to believe the story is about a lonely man facing the solitude and futility of death. A closer look at Leo Tolstoy’s materpiece reveals a more sprititual interpretation that focuses on the dangers of chasing after the facade associated with fame and fortune. This spiritual interpretation directs the reader to conclude that focusing on the blessings of family and friends is more important than aspiring to climb the ladder of success.
Other reviews of this work develop the theory that Tolstoy was trying to protray Ivan as a global representation of the common man. However this theory does not coincide with the rather despicable character traits that Ivan possesses. The Death of Ivan Illyich implies that death neutralizes all social levels, minimizes all financial accomplishments, and highlights the importance of moral satisfaction. In the end a person’s wealth and material possessions are of less importance than the knowlege that a person’s life was lived in a just and honourable manner.
In the Death of Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy highlights the fact that death is inevitable and people should focus on enjoying their current life instead of trying to pursue a lifestyle beyond their reach. In the story, Ivan constantly searches better employment and subsequent lifestyle. In fact, Ivan even weds Praskovya Fedorovna for social status rather than out of love. For example in chapter two, Tolstoy states,”To say that Ivan Ilyich married because he fell in love with Praskovya Fedorovna and found that she sympathized with his views of life would be as incorrect as to say that he married becuase his social circle approved of the match.
After marriage and the birth of Ivan and Praskovya first child, Praskovya Fedorovna begins to become irritable. Ivan begins to spend more time working and less time with his family. This preoccupation evolves into an obsession. His work becomes his solace and he spends more and more time away from his family. At the end of his life he is forced to accept the realization he has developed nothing more than superficial relationships with his family and friends. They placate him by pretending to sympathize with his physical condition, but in reality care little about his illness.
Tolstoy provides a number of examples to support this. Chapter four; “And this conclusion struck him painfully, arousing in him a great feeling of bitterness towards the docter’s indifference to a matter of such importance. ” Chapter four; ” Praskovya Fedorovna’s attitude to Ivan Ilyich’s illness, as she expressed it both to others and to him, was that it was his own fault and was another of the annoyances he caused her. ” And other is in chapter 11, “Is it our fault? Lisa said to her mother. “It’s as if we were to blame! I am sorry for papa, but why should we be tortured?
These examples underline the importance of developing strong sincere family and social relationships and the understanding that life is better enjoyed with the acceptance of one’s station in life. Ilyich’s lack of both haunt him during his last days. Tolstoy examines the conflict between the spiritual life and the physical life. He ignores events and experiences related to Ivan’s childhood, instead Tolstoy focuses on the details of Ivan’s adulthood leading up to his sickness. Tolstoy writes “Ivan Ilyich’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.
This is a very strong point in the story as it reveals Tolstoy’s disdain for Ivan’s mundane life. Tolstoy also conveys that Ivan is consumed in shallow relationships, self interest, and materialism. He is buried in work and does not realize how the trivial pursuit of these artificial goals has resulted in a truly meager life, while lying at death’s door. Facing death, Ivan reconciles this revelation of what is truly important in life, but the realization comes too late.. He has learned that there is a gap in life between what is true and real within oneself and what is a superficial outer facade.
Examples of this are found in Chapter 12 in the following excerts ” He struggled as a man himself. ” and “He felt that his agony was due to his being thrust into that black hole and still more to his not being able to get right into it. He was hindered from getting it by his conviction that his life had been a good one. That very justification held him fast and prevented his moving forward, and it caused him most torment of all. ” Material pursuits do not necessarily equate to a life of fulfillment.
Ivan finally registers that he had been living a physical life, and begins to understanding of the importance of a spiritual life. Tolstoy is very clear in his message; an individual needs to realize the duality oneself and worry less about the physical appearance. The thesis developed in this critical essay is based on the interpretation that much of Ivan Illyich’s misery in his struggle with death is based on the priorities of his life. His focus was on developing shallow relationships with members of a class of society he aspired to become a part of.
Ivan’s focus on pursuing job advancement takes precedence over providing a stable paternal figure for his family. Ivan also placed a higher importance on propriety and etiquette in the performance of his job duties, than employing compassion for the unfortunate souls under his legal purview. Ivan’s reflection on his superficial pursuits through the course of his life, exacerbates his painful death. This ultimately supports the hidden moral of Tolstoy’s story, that life is better lived enjoying the blessings of one’s social status than chasing the material desires associated with the upper class.