Friday, March 22, 2013

The Death of Ivan Ilych

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

Two of my favorite literary works that discusses death or old age is Cicero's On Old Age and Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych. I have read both of these works multiple times and I am sure I will read them many more times. That is the great thing about the great works. You can read them multiple times and still profit by them.

The Death of Ivan Ilych is about a man who is floating down the river of life without much thought to the great questions of life. Ivan Ilych sought to live a easy and pleasant life without any disturbances. For example, he began to dislike his marriage because he "began to think that marriage was going to disturb his easygoing, pleasant, gay, and always respectable life." He lived for appearances, not reality. Ivan was just cruising through life till disaster struck. He accidentally hurt himself while preparing a new house for his family. This accident would change his whole life. It made him to wrestle with the important questions of life, death, and the meaning of life. He came to the conclusion that the life he lived before the accident was all a lie.

The pain from this illness never left him. It also gave him a bad taste in his mouth. Is he speaking metaphorically about the life he had lived. He is frustrated because everyone living around him is living in denial, telling him he will get better. Only Gerasim is honest with him. Geraism is his servant who supports him in his illness. One of Ivan's friend tells Gerasim, "It's a sad affair, isn't it?" Gerasim speaking of his master's death, "It's God's will, we shall all come to it someday.

After Ivan's accident, he lost interest in his work and became more interested in his family. He wanted to show them pity, but the only one he felt comforted by was Gerasim. This servant accepted that everyone must die while everyone around Ivan were living in denial. They did not even recognize that this would happen to them too. Ivan began to accept the possibility of his own death. He even began to undergo a religious conversion with the taking of the sacrament. In the end, he felt sorry for his family and drew near to them.

In the end Ivan lost his fear of death. He actually welcomed it. Ivan says, "In the place of death there was light." He had made peace with death. He actually saw it as a passage to life. When he came to the end he said, "what joy."

The Death of Ivan Ilych is a great work because it helps us to focus on the important things of life. How should we live our life? Does life have meaning? Can I face death? It is a work worth reading multiple times.

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