The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy Essay Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1512 Words
Date:  2021-12-14


"The Death of Ivan Ilyich" is a complicated novella with many different themes which could be reviewed. As is plainly evident from the title of the work, death is a major concept as well as how Ivan Ilyich handles his journey through the dying process. Ivan Ilyichs family must also traverse his death although they do not react in the same ways. Ivan Ilyichs illness and death are represented in the book through the five stages of grief that Kubler Ross models, which in some ways we can see by the way his family and doctors react both morally and ethically towards Ivan Ilyich.

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The Five Stages of Grief

Dr. Kubler-Ross developed a model to include the five stages of grief associated with loss or in the case of Ivan Ilyich, with dying. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They dont necessarily occur in this particular order but can sometimes also overlap. There is no set amount of time for theses stages to occur, however, there are times when Ivan Ilyich experiences them all.

Shortly after Ivan Ilyich bumped himself on the window knob, he often told the story but insisted that he felt fine. He acknowledged a little bruise and a little pain but denied anything further. The pain continued and did not go away no matter how much he denied it. After what may have been a few months Ivan Ilyich sometimes complained of a strange taste in his mouth and some discomfort on his left side (p 63) but he continued to deny that anything could really be wrong. In Ivan Ilyichs case, denial and anger seemed to have overlapped.

As the pain in his side grew worse, he became more and more agitated and nasty until he finally admitted being irritable but attributed this to illness. (p64) He was not accepting death but he was finally accepting the illness. Once Ivan Ilyich accepted the illness and started seeing doctors, he began to feel that he had a serious condition. Since the Hippocratic Oath had already been written at the time of Ivan Ilyichs demise, doctors around him did have a duty to nonmaleficence which meant that their first order of business for any patient was to do no harm. After the very first doctor Ivan Ilyich concluded that things were bad but¦it was of no consequence.(p 65).

After the first doctor visit Ivan Ilyich also starts to enter into his first bout of depression. He focused on it [the pain] now with a new sense of distress. (p 66). Before the visit to the doctor he had not paid much attention to his pain although he was angrier. The doctor had been very aloof and had not given Ivan Ilyich very many conclusions on the reality of his situation which left Ivan Ilyich to assume the worst. After a few months and a few more specialists of that era, Ivan Ilyich had not improved Doctors of this era tried their best without much medical education to be helpful or beneficent to their patients but they were lacking in both education and in medication. His brother-in-law visited and was shocked to find that Ivan Ilyich had changed drastically in his appearance. Ivan Ilyichs depression worsened but he decided to see one more doctor. In Ivan Ilyichs mind, he believed that this doctor knew his field.

When Ivan Ilyich came home from his visit to the last doctor was in a cheerful mood he was beginning to bargain. He thought he need only give nature a hand (p 75) and he would improve. When thinking about the medicine the doctor had ordered, he told himself to take it regularly since he often did not. In talking to himself he had a more positive outlook. He kept telling himself that he felt better already. (p76) Moments after Ivan Ilyich began bargaining, he stopped just as quickly as the pain returned. He entered into a very angry acceptance Ill be gone. he stated to himself (p. 76). He didnt know what to expect and he was sure that his family didnt know he was dying and didnt care. He seemed to feel many emotions at the same time. He was accepting death but he was also angry and depressed.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich Characters

Ivan Ilyichs doctors did not leave the impression that they were highly educated. Their knowledge of the working of the human body was most likely limited by the technology of the era. However Ivan Ilyich went to quite of few doctors and they all seemed to point to either the problem with his kidney or his caecum. The doctors had an exaggerated air of importance (p 64). They treated Ivan Ilyich as more of an object than a person. When they finished their examinations, they spouted their findings. One doctor, after Ivan Ilyich asked about the seriousness of his condition told him that he had already told you what I considered necessary and suitable (p 66). The doctors appeared to show little compassion for the feelings or emotions of their patients. They were from an era long before even the traditionalists of the 1920s and 1930s who felt that doctors know everything and werent to be questioned. Ivan Ilyich however wanted answers to questions that would have eased his mind. The doctors could have been less aloof and formal and more caring and kind.

Ivan Ilyichs family and household staff treated him mostly like a petulant child who they believed continually complained of a problem that wasnt real. On the occasion of the first doctors visit he began to tell his wife of his emotions but she did not hear him out (p 66). Instead she went to get dressed for the day. Life in Ivan Ilyichs household went on around him as his illness progressed no matter how ill he became. His daughter and son did not visit often. Instead of avoiding Ivan Ilyich, his family could have visited with him, cheered his spirits, and taken care of him instead of leaving his care to the servants. They could have shown him love and compassion.

Ivan Ilyich had one staff member, a pantry boy, who had compassion for his dying master. No task was too time consuming, arduous, or disgusting for Gerasim. Gerasim acknowledged Ivan Ilyichs plight by saying we all have to die sometime, so why shouldnt I help you? (p 87). He treated Ivan Ilyich with compassion respect and dignity during the final weeks and days of his life.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Ostracize in the Death of Ivan Ilyich

In the beginning of Ivan Ilyichs illness, he had autonomy with the doctor. He made the decision on his own to go to the doctor but due to the nature of the era, the doctor was incapable of truly giving all of the information necessary for Ivan Ilyich to make an informed decision about his condition. Informed consent as it is today did not exist in the time of Ivan Ilyich. Doctors did not have the knowledge they have today and they also felt that it was their job to make the decisions and not be questioned by their patients. Ivan Ilyich had to go on the word of the doctor without truly being able to make an autonomous decision.

Under Maszlows hierarchy of needs, only Ivan Ilyichs basic needs for, clothing, and shelter were initially met. Pain medication was added by the doctors but no sense of security or understanding was provided. There was certainly no sense of belonging, love or understanding provided by his family. During his illness, Ivan Ilyich was mostly ostracized by his family and left to the servants for care.

By the time Ivan Ilyich had been sick for about three or more months his wife became paternalistic. His wife and doctors began making all his decisions for him. He was sleeping in his small study and he was very ill. Arrangements were made for him for everything. He had doctors visits arranged by his wife. He had special food to eat as ordered by the doctors. He was given medication to dull the constant pain he felt. Most of his life was being managed for him and for his care. Paternalism was probably necessary since he could do very little for himself.


"The Death of Ivan Ilyich" shows the progression of a man as he passes through the stages of death. Ivan Ilyich originally denies that his death is even possible and finally after progressing through denial, anger and bargaining comes to the final stage of acceptance. During the final phase Ivan realizes that he has not lived the best of lives. He was materialistically driven most of his life by pleasure and wonders whether his way of living had any bearing on the kind of torturous death he had. He eventually finds in the final moments of his life that his family really is there in the room with him and that they love him and have compassion for him as he leaves his world.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for Essay:

What are the five stages of grief according to Kubler-Ross, and how are they portrayed in Ivan Ilyich's journey?

Ivan Ilyich experiences all five stages of grief simultaneously: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Although these stages don't follow a linear progression in his case, they may overlap. For instance, at first he denied his illness while simultaneously experiencing anger and denial simultaneously; later as it worsened he bargained hoping for improvement before depression set in before eventually coming to accept his impending death.

How do the doctors in Ivan Ilyich's story treat him, and what impact does it have on his experience?

The doctors in Ivan Ilyich's story appear as lacking compassion, treating him more like an object than as an individual. Their lack of empathetic responses toward Ivan Ilyich's emotions and concerns only worsen his distress and frustration further.

How does Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs apply to Ivan Ilyich's situation, and how does he experience ostracization?

Initial satisfaction of Ivan Ilyich's physiological needs such as food, clothing and shelter is met. Unfortunately, his higher-level needs such as security, love, belonging and understanding remain unmet by his family - instead opting for isolation instead of support or compassion - leaving his care mostly up to servants. Over time however, as his illness worsens his autonomy diminishes while decisions regarding his care become made by wife and doctors leading him down a path toward paternalism and lack of control over his own life.

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The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy Essay Example. (2021, Dec 14). Retrieved from

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