‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’ by Leo Tolstoy

I recently finished Leo Tolstoy’s most famous short story, ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych.’ This story examines the life of Ivan Ilyich, a man who seeks a pleasant life, and strives after the material life. He gets married, obtains a job in law and moves up, receiving promotion after promotion. All of a sudden, he begins to become sick. He slowly becomes more ill, until he is on his way to death. All around him lie to themselves and him that he won’t die. This lie, along with the pain itself, puts him in a state of anguish. He wonders when his suffering will go away? He strongly wants to keep living, and resists death with every fiber of his being. In the very last chapter of this story, something happens, after the anguishes has dug so deep inside of him. He treats his wife and his children horribly just because he is sick. Not only is he in pain, but he is causing suffering directly in his family. However, he finds his direction at the conclusion of the short story:

Suddenly some force shoved him in the chest, in the side, choked his breath still more, he fell through the hole, and there, at the end of the hole, something lit up. What was done to him was like what happens on the train, when you think you are moving forward, but are moving backward, and suddenly find out the real direction…

…And suddenly it became clear to him that was tormenting him and would not be resolved was suddenly all restored at once, on two sides, on ten sides, on all sides. He was sorry for them, he had to act so that it was not painful for them. To deliver them and deliver himself from these sufferings. “How good and how simple,” he thought. “And the pain?” he asked himself. “What’s become of it? Where are you pain?”

-‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’ by Leo Tolstoy


One thought on “‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’ by Leo Tolstoy

  1. I enjoy reading what you’re reading vicariously through these blog posts on Tolstoy and Tennyson. Please be sure to read my latest blog post, “Wilder’s provocations on love.” It should clench your desire to read his masterful novel, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.”


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