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The Analysis of the Novel: The Death of Ivan Ilych

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Thesis Statement:

            The novel of Leo Tolstoy 1981 entitled The Death of Ivan Ilych has provided several arguments that sprung up throughout several critiques and analysis that occurred together with the literary piece.

            The primary theme of the novel involves the main condition of death as it comes near a person and the process of accepting, interacting, and living in a condition wherein death seemingly knocks near.

            The plot misfortunes that were experienced by the protagonist of the story, Ivan Ilych, implicates a branching ideologies from various aspects of elements, such as religion, literary critiques, social sciences, philosophy of death, etc.

            As for the analysis of the novel, the primary focused elements involves the aspect of death in its core acceptance and the prime symbolic attributes specifically pain and death itself. Moreover, the analysis of the paper further extends to the scenario of the characters, Gerasim, and the family, which somehow provided the primary conflicting parties throughout the literary piece. Obviously, the course of the story is in line with the aspects of bereavement and grief; however, the primary irony involved is how did the aspect of dying became the path towards the light and enjoyment


            The novel starts in the persona of Ivan Ilych Golovin who significantly plays part in the justice system of St. Petersburg as a high court judge. During the life of Ivan Ilych, prosperity and fame had been part of the ever-existing clan inclined in political affairs, such as the paternal lineage of Ivan, granted that they have served St. Petersburg in a well-defined manner. The family of Ivan Ilych comprises of political personnel from Ilya Epimovich Golovin, who was a councilor. Ilych’s family of origin did branched out in a well-famed and recognized individuals (her sister married a baron, and his elder brother sought the steps of his father). Ilych averagely lived a normal yet significant life as a Member of Court of Justice even though he was expected by his father as the le phénix de la famille or pride of the family. The powers enveloped in the grasp of this lawyer were negated at the time of great anomaly that had occurred. The focus of Ilych’s life remained in the sense of good deeds for the community, for the religious sects, and for his family (Schwehn and Bass 2006 492). One time, the ordinary life of Ilych was disrupted by immense pain occurring in his side.

Apparently, the good deeds did not saved him from the diagnosis of the doctors, which states that the condition present in him is terminal, and death was nearing towards him. Ilych was devastated and resort to questions of deserving such faith considering the upright life that he ordained to himself; hence, he began disrupting the usual momentum of the ambiance, being rude even to his family, and much worst, to himself. However, the conditions of Ilych’s perspectives shifted as he met one of the symbolic figure established in Gerasim, who somehow taught Ilych the irony of artificial life and authentic life.  Upon the death of the judge, the storyline branches out into various opinions expressed by different characters.

Fedor Vasilievich, Peter Ivanovich, and other members of the court justice were keenly arguing and expecting the promotions brought by the death of Ilych (Danaher, 2007). The concept of grief and bereavement greatly entangled the perspective of Ivanovich and the left behind family of Ilych, which somehow institutes another symbolic figure connoting the negative aspect of death. At the end of the story, Ilych recognized the benefit of dying in a different perspective of being aware, prepared and able to consider the value of life as well as dying (Dickenson and Katz 2000 220). Therefore, at the end of the, Ilych finally accepted his death, negated the aspect of artificial life, and welcomed the authenticity of his new given life (Schwehn and Bass 2006 492).

            The primary characters involved in the novel mainly branch out to different persona, namely the protagonist, van Ilych Golovin and his family, Fedor Vasilievich, Peter Ivanovich, Gerasim, and Praskóvya Fëdorovna. Starting with the main protagonists, Ilych Golovin, who died in February 4, 1882, became the primary point of circulation in the novel (see www.ccel.org). The discussion mainly involved the death of Ivan as he conjured a terminal illness diagnosed by the doctor, which greatly affected every parts of his life (Dickenson and Katz 2000 220). The essence of being ordinary present in his life has shifted into a life full of inquiries and justifications of good works over life’s unfortunate consequences.

Peter Ivanovich became one of Ivan’s closest acquaintances, and the two of them went to law school together with Vasilievich. Ivanovich presents odd approach towards the coffin of Ilych considering that his main symbol in the story relays in an unenlightened individual. Ivanovich and Fedor Vasilievich joins the character of position-greed in the novel, as the two exclaim the desire of obtaining the vacancy left by the positions of Ilych; hence, implicating the characters of discreet antagonists. Meanwhile, the wife of Ilych, Praskóvya Fëdorovna, also play significant role in the course story as the main reinforcement of Ivan in terms of his illness (Malpas and Solomon, 1998 6). As Ivan suppress the reality of being terminally ill, Fëdorovna continuously instills to Ivan’s mind the reality of facing death. “Fëdorovna’s perspective; however, remains centered to his husband and not for greedy motives, although, the act further depresses Ilych’s perceptions over his condition (Schwehn and Bass 2006 492)”.

Lastly, the character of Gerasim, whom somehow, provided the characteristics of enlightenment-bringer on the aspect of Ilych’s depressive estates had greatly modified the perspective of Ilych over life, death, living and dying (De Sousa, 2003). By showing and standing courageously over the face of dying and solitude, Ilych became impressed on his perspective, which somehow motivated Ilych to change towards the betterment, acceptance, realization of life after death, and the belief of God and confession (Malpas and Solomon, 1998 6; Schwehn and Bass 2006 492).

            The symbolisms present in the story explicitly interact all throughout the story lines, particularly death, pain and the act of confession.

            “Most notably evident, Ilych’s response over the pain had provided him the devastating news that disrupted the environment of ordinariness and the well-classified life that he had as a member of justice committee (Malpas and Solomon, 1998 6)”.

The pain experienced by Ilych acted as the primary trigger to shift the entire dimension of ordinary to the notion of anxiety. The sufferings brought by pain triggered the change and exposure of weakness in Ilych’s belief of uprightness and moral stands, considering that the profession whom the character signifies was actually in the field of reasoning and rationale (Klement 1994). Pain acted as the prime trigger to shift the ambiance and transcend the storyline to another aspect, which is facing the facts of terminal status particularly, death (Danaher, 2007). The concept of death is deemed not only as the primary theme of the story but also play part of the symbolical triad wherein fear of death exposes the discreet doubts, test of faith, level of enlightenment and realization of life far more than the knowledge obtained from career or education (Malpas and Solomon, 1998 6). Lastly, the concept of confession that was ordained by Ilych with a priest after achieving the realizations of authentic life over the dying one had significantly provided the symbolical role of resolution (Klement 1994). Considering the Christian inclinations of Tolstoy, (pain) triggers are deemed necessary in order for us to realize the current end (death) of our action while thinking that the current path (upright living or an ordinary life) can save us from the end, yet only by understanding the utmost goal (authentic life) can help us seek the key (confession) (De Sousa, 2003).

            The novel’s irony was dispatched mainly on the latter part of the story wherein the aspect of joy and acceptance became the point of view of Ilych as he approach the nearest time of his death. Considering that the whole time after knowing the terminal condition of his life, the aspect of living became distorted and self-pity reigned over Ilych discreetly, and yet, the outcome of the novel illustrated a sense of satisfaction, which is a satisfied notion from dying.

            “And the pain?” he asked himself. “What has become of it? Where are you,       pain?”He turned his attention to it. “Yes, here it is. Well, what of it? Let the pain        be.” … “And death…where is it?” …”So that’s what it is!” he suddenly exclaimed aloud. “What joy!” (Tolstoy 1981)

The statement provided by Ilych greatly connotes the essence of dying with satisfaction, acceptance and excitement; however, the early expressions involved extreme agony and pain over his conditions that are yet to be resolved. In some point of analysis, the irony revolves in the concept of authentic life and artificial life that possess contradicting perspective yet manifest the actual explanations over the irony (De Sousa, 2003). Bridged by enlightenment and realization, Ilych finally took his leap from the ideation of artificial life and finally surrender himself towards life’s authenticity by dying, which is the very most ironic statement of the novel.


            In the conclusion of the paper, the primary theme stated involves the aspect of death and the statement of the thesis states the union of acceptance of death from the fear of dying. Three elements have been utilized in the entire course of literary analysis, mainly the characterizations, symbolism and irony. The characters in the novel, which notably revealed the fascinations and main participations of the most important characters of the novel, provided the framework of the entire events of the story. The symbolism instills the triads of pain, death and confession, which somehow suggests the religious implications of the story as referred to both the novel and the Christian originations of the author. Lastly, the irony involved tackles the significant turning over from agony of death towards acceptance to the point of searching for death.

Works Cited

Internet Resources:

“Death of Ivan Ilych.” 1 Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 7 Feb. 2008 <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/tolstoy/ivan.html>.

Danaher, David S. “IVAN ILYCH.” 1 2007. Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. 7 Feb. 2008 <http://www.deathreference.com/Ho-Ka/Ivan-Ilych.html>.

Database Resources:

Klement, Vera. “An Artist’s Notes on Aging and Death.” Art Journal. 53.1 (1994): 73-76. Online LIbrary. Questia Database. 7 Feb. 2008 <http://www.questia.com/read/5000206040>.

De Sousa, Ronald. “Perversion and Death.” The Monist. 86.1 (2003): 90-97. Online LIbrary. Questia Database. 7 Feb. 2008 <http://www.questia.com/read/5002526428>.

Print Resources:

Dickenson, Donna, and Joanne Katz. Death, Dying and Bereavement. SAGE, 2000.

Gergen, Kenneth J., and Mary M. Gergen. Social Construction: A Reader. SAGE, 2003.

Schwehn, Mark R., and Dorothy C. Bass. Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2006.

Primary/ Book Resources:

Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Bantam, 1981.

Malpas, J E., and Robert C. Solomon. Death and Philosophy. Routledge, 1998.

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