Life and the loss of life often bring to attention some of the discourses that can alter the understanding of a persons legacy. In The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolstoy, he talks about the death of Ivan Ilyich, as the name suggests. Ivan, whose entry in the legal system sees him adopt all manner of ideologies that increase his influence on the legal system. Following his death, his colleagues try to find out how the death of Ivan will impact their positions bureaucratically given his role prior to his death.
The character, Ivan, is misguided. One of the most apparent characteristics of the man is that his life was lived with him having very little influence over his actions and by extension his life. His life was simple; Ivan Ilyich s life turned out very pleasantly in the new city as well; the society that took a critical tone of the governor was good and friendly, his salary was larger, and a not inconsiderable pleasure was then added to his life by whist which Ivan Ilyich started to play (1449). The lack of direction and initiative makes Ivan one of the most misguided characters in the story. Other than his misguided predispositions, the character is a metaphor for a larger moral scheme. His demise sets in motion a series of events in which he existentially looks into his life.
Ivan led a very isolated life. He was born as the second born of three sons. He went to law school at the age of thirteen. Upon completion of his studies, he went on to enter the judicial system where his influence is seen as a critical driver for change and improvement in the judicial system. Ivan is keen to ensure that his rise to succession up the ranks of the judicial system is in line with a lifestyle that he admires.
He married Praskovya, who changes after they have a child. His lifestyle which he has admired seem threatened by his new wife. Unable to control the nature of his marriage, Ivan takes to his instinctive resolve and dives into his work. The character makes sure to always be official and formal in his address to his family and also to colleagues. All his actions and interaction seem to stem from his determination to remain a high society member.
As he desperately tries to continue his ascension up the judicial ladder, he encounters challenges including being passed over for a job as Justice in a University town. His inability forces him to move his family to his brother-in-law, a move that is meant to allow him time to come out from his financially unstable situation. It is important to him that a man with a wife, family and a legal career look and live as comfortably as possible. This desire to have it all sees him travel to St Petersburg where he is lucky enough to get a high paying job. One that he desperately needs.
Throughout the novel, the immediate predispositions that push him to a love for material things and the aesthetic of admiration and success force him to associate happiness and admiration to his entire persona. This forces him to always strive for social acceptance and class. His predispositions and understanding on what life is truly about lead him to some of the most coveted positions in society. The presumed fate from which Ivan should be saved is dying with a flawed perception of the life (Lang 326). His understanding of what is valuable in life is flawed, and it is this perception that preempts his desire for redemption.
Ivan falls sick and finds that the life he had grown up admiring and working towards is non-existent. His wife cannot understand the change that his husband is undergoing. He falls in and is soon aware of his apparent death. Alone in his bed, Ivan realizes that he will die and face his life becomes one of the harder things that the protagonist has to deal with. His fate was terrible. Tolstoy writes, He removed his legs and lay on his side on top of his arm, and he began to feel sorry for himself. He just waited for Gerasim to go out into the next room before he burst into tears (1473) His ailment forces him to be bed ridden, something that confines him to the help of those who are empathetic to himself.
In his only empathize is Gerasim with whom he spends night and day. Gerasim is very critical of the condition in which Ivan finds himself. Although assigned and not volunteered to the role of taking care of Ivan, he is very committed to his job and regularly spends entire nights helping Ivan deal with some of the pain he feels. The imminent death that Ivan knows will happen still seems unclear to his family, something that he finds deeply insulting. His family does not understand his absence, and this forces him to rethink his entire life.
Lost in apathy, he finds himself questioning the decision and motivation behind the decisions that led his life to such an unloving place. Ivan is alienated in his official capacity as a judicial officer, as a husband and to great lengths as a human being. His daily routine does not help as he is bedridden. It is during this time that he realizes his life was led without feeling. He has not been keen on what matters in life, and because of this, his life is empty (Carter, 16). He had an official position in which he carefully executed his responsibilities. His entire life was spent in service of other but with the incentive of materialistic things.
The admiration and respect he once had were not lost. His position in the judicial system was vacant, responsibilities he had taken up at home as father and husband now irrelevant. His life seems empty and misdirected. Ivan soon learns that his entire life has been wasted on the wrong things. Simply finding a lucrative job and being able to afford a certain lifestyle seems artificial.
He can understand the state of his marriage. His wife was brought into a life where material things only understood love and appreciation. The expensive life he once knew seems empty and his role as a judicial officer unimportant. His pre-determined persona does not matter as his death seems unchallenged. His doctors have no cure for him and find that his condition may have no medical explanation (Berlinger 26). His doctors, family, and colleagues cannot and do not intend to help him.
Towards the very end of his days, Ivan notices his son's apparent awareness of his father's predicament. Vasya is the only member of his family that has remained beside him, something he hadnt been keen to notice. The service that Gerasim extends to Ivan is another important part of the book as it allows him to understand empathy, compassion, and honesty. Gerasim embodies these qualities, something he had not taken note of in his life. The service and care Gerasim extend to Ivan improves is the only help he realizes in his death bed (Taylor 302). The end of his days finds him understanding himself and the position in which he currently is.
Ivan has a dream in which he is pushed into a black sack. He both fears and desires entering the sack. Taking the sack as a metaphor for his imminent demise, Ivan takes to a solemn thought where the discourses of his life come to the surface. His understanding of what a good life he led prevents him from making it into the sack, but upon looking at his situation, he finds the desire to get into it even more compelling. Ivan feels a sharp pain in his chest, and then suddenly is pushed into the sack. His wife and son are present, but the only emotion he has for them is a pity. Upon entering the sack, he is met with a bright light and a feeling of joy. Tolstoy writes, He searched for his old habitual fear of death and didnt find it. Where is death, What is death? What death? There was no fear because there was no death. Instead there was light (1478). Ivans understanding of his life is renewed, and with this understanding, he feels redeemed. He manages a sigh of relief before succumbing to his death.
Redemption can be one of the most difficult things for a person to achieve. From The Death of Ivan, one can take into account some of the predispositions that made Ivan Ilyich the man adored by most of the people around him. His perception of happiness and what he had a lot of value was all artificial. He was a man. Mortal as the rest yet in his death, he finds compassion, love, and admiration as experiences that are central to redemption. The last images before his death is that of his wife in tears and his son beside him. At this moment, Ivan feels the love, and honesty he had been ignorant of and is redeemed.
Carter, Steven. "Tolstoy's the Death Of Ivan Ilyich." The Explicator 62.1 (2003): 15-16. Web. 9 June 2017.
Lang, Gerald. "What Does Ivan Ilyich Need To Be Rescued From? Philosophy 89.02 (2013): 325-347. Web. 9 June 2017.
Nancy Berlinger. "Difficult Doctors and Rational Fears." Hastings Center Report 40.4 (2010): 25-29. Web. 9 June 2017.
Taylor, Susan L. "The Gerasim Model of Caregiving: Reflections on Tolstoy's Novella, the Death Of Ivan Ilyich." Death Studies 21.3 (1997): 299-304. Web. 9 June 2017.
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