The short story, “The Death of Ivan Ilych”, written by Leo Tolstoy, is about the reactions of a man and his friends to his suffering and death. Everyone who knows Ivan including Ivan himself has led a life of total disconcern for the feelings and sufferings of others. They all lead shallow lives not daring to probe into the feelings deep down inside for fear of stepping outside the lines of propriety. That is the biggest rule that people of that society follow. Do not say or show what you are thinking. Ivan Ilych’s attitude toward life is the same all the way up to his death.
He was as the author put it, “…a capable, good-natured, and social man, though strict in the fulfillment of what he considered his duty: and he considered his duty to be what was so considered by those in authority. ” (p. 1088) That quote states that Ivan was solely concerned with his duties and his advancement in position by following the orders of his authorities. Ivan was son of a successful man who held many positions in many departments. That man, Ilya Epimovich Golovin, had three sons. The oldest followed his father’s example and was a success.
The youngest son was a total failure. He had blown many opportunities and was the shame of the family. Ivan the middle son was the better of the two. Ivan was a mix of his two brothers. He had the hard-working spirit of the older brother but also appreciates the value of a good time like the younger brother. Ivan’s career grew steadily. In a short time, he eventually obtained the position of examining magistrate. Ivan did very well in this position. He excelled in the separation of the personal duties in his life and the official duties to which he was totally dedicated.
This taste of power which came with his new position was very appealing to Ivan. The idea that writing a few words or giving a simple command sent people into motion made Ivan very happy. Upon moving to a new town to take up the position of examining magistrate, Ivan met his future wife, Praskovya Fedorovna Mikhel. Ivan saw her as a “…well connected, and was a sweet, pretty, and thoroughly correct young woman. ” The view that she was so within the lines of propriety was the most attractive feature which this young woman possessed in Ivan’s view.
At first the marriage which Ivan thought couldn’t hurt his pleasure-seeking life didn’t, then according to Ivan she began to disturb the pleasure and propriety of his life. This ordeal only worsened when his wife became pregnant. She became unbearable to him, overly jealous and coarse, becoming an obstacle to his pursuit of happiness and properness. When the child was born, Ivan realized that a life totally separate his family life would be necessary to fulfill the goals he set for himself.
He also came to the realization that to keep his marriage in order that he was going to have to adopt the same attitude to his family that he has to his official duties. Ivan developed an attitude towards his family of complete indifference as stated in the story, “He only required of it those conveniences—dinner at home, housewife, and bed—which it could give him. ” (p. 1092) More children arrived and his wife’s attitude only worsened. After three years and becoming a highly looked upon official he received a promotion to the position of Assistant Public Prosecutor. This new promotion made Ivan like his job even more.
Meanwhile, more children were born which made Ivan’s life even more difficult. After getting another promotion and moving to another province, the marriage was getting increasingly difficult. To try and overcome this Ivan decided to spend some time in the country with his wife. This move turns out to be a very bad one. Ivan falls into deep depression and decides that some drastic measures are needed. He returns from the country heading towards St. Petersburg with the objective of obtaining a salary of 5,000 rubles a year. Things worked out very much in his favor. He got a promotion two steps above his former position.
After obtaining this position, he returned to the country and his marriage life improved immensely. Ivan then proceeded to the province to which they were moving to attempt to locate a house. He found one which suited his tastes perfectly. Ivan turned his attention towards furnishing his house. He searched for all the things which give his house an air of aristocracy and yet not too snobbish. While showing an upholsterer how he wanted the drapes hung, Ivan fell and nearly caught himself but unfortunately managed to hit himself in the side and give himself a large bruise.
This is when the health problems begin. The illness began slowly but the pain steadily increased. Ivan visited many doctors, but none of them could give him a solid diagnosis. The pain caused many problems in his life, most of all it interfered with how he did his job. People began to look down upon him. No one really felt sympathy for Ivan. The people whom he called his friends treated him the same as he treated them in his life, with total indifference. Even Ivan’s own wife treated his illness as a burden and a trouble. He begins to realize how everyone is treating him.
All that he wants is pity and there is no one there to give him it besides his servant Gerasim. Ivan shows spots of beginning to realize how he treated life. He treated life with the utmost propriety and tried his very best not to let his emotions get in the way of how he acted and performed his duty. This shows when Ivan says, “What if my whole life has really been wrong? ”(p. 1117) Ivan says this while looking at Gerasim peacefully sleeping at his side, the only one who shows the slightest bit of pity and sorrow for him. Ivan’s wife is falsely concerned in his condition merely because that is the thing for her to be in this situation.
She does not really care if he makes it; she is only worried about the inconvenience his suffering is putting her through and the financial bind his death puts her in. Ivan realizes all these things and cannot even bear to speak with her. He thinks to himself, “Yes, I am making them wretched…They are sorry, but it will be better for them when I die. ” (p. 1119) All of these things lead up to the conclusion in Ivan’s mind that he is sorry for them. He is trying to act so as not to hurt them. In the final scene someone besides his servant, Gerasim, begins to show pity for him, it is his son.
Ivan sees the sorrow and pity in his eyes and apologizes to him for causing this grief. With this story, Leo Tolstoy shows that a man can change. That even if it must be through pain and suffering that everyone is capable of redemption. If a man such as Ivan Ilych who never cared for anyone more than necessary can be redeemed and see the fault in his ways then anyone can. The most selfish man can be changed if people show him pity and feel for him, as he should feel for others. It stirred something inside Ivan when people went out of their way to attempt to comfort him. It made him realize his faults and want to change.
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