Death is like a change, it is inevitable, and however much people can avoid it, they must encounter it at all costs. Religious teachings are dominated by the issue of life after death, a life that theoretically stands out to be better than the current but ironically, though, all people yearn for such a life, none wishes to die. Their fear of death is far beyond explanations. In his account, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy sets to prove this fact. He addresses the issue of death, how people perceive it, how it ought to be perceived, and how it must happen anyway. Ivan Ilyich, the protagonist of the narrative, blindly adopts a classic life, not because he can manage it, but because it is lived by others. He gets used to it and as the story unfolds, he develops a resistance to anything that seems to deprive him of this kind of life, death inclusive. It is worth noting that, Tolstoy’s novella is his real-life experience. As an orphan, he has lived to see death snatch his parents’ lives subjecting him to pains and struggles, though he has been wealthy. In Tolstoy’s account, death is pictured as a stepping stone to a better position, however, while Tolstoy has it that death is inevitable, Ivan Ilyich lives by its denial and fear until he comes to accept the fact a few days before his death.
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Attitude towards Death
Though death is thought to pull people behind following the gap created by the deceased, Tolstoy translates it into a stepping stone to higher positions. This stands out right from the beginning of the story. When news about Ivan’s death enters the law courts where Melvinsky’s case is being heard, the first thing registered in the minds of the judicial council members is none but who will step in Ivan’s vacant post. “…on hearing of Ivan Ilyich’s death, the first thought of each of the gentlemen in the room was of the effect this death would have on the transfer or the promotion of themselves or their friends” (Tolstoy 87). It sounds unrealistic but this is the attitude attached to death by the author’s characters. Frodor, one of the members posits, “Now I am sure of Shtabel’s place or…and the promotion means eight hundred roubles additional income…” (Tolstoy 87). In addition, the scenario is worsened when Ivan’s wife, following her husband’s death, only talks about the possible schemes that can be employed to exploit Ivan’s pension. She posits, “I consider it affectation to pretend that my grief prevents me from looking after practical matters…” (Tolstoy 92). This is a clear indication of how she yearns for death. Moreover, to Ivan also, death turns to be the only way out of his agony. Following his illness, he figures his ‘being dead’ as a position better than his current one, and that is why he views it as a way to freedom. It is worth noting that even to the author; life is meaningless dominated by depressions as exposited in his story A Confession. He has gained an insight that death that awaits him will leave him free of crisis and depression. Tolstoy views death as inevitable as expounded below.
The inevitability of death stands out in the perspective of Tolstoy. Following the death of his parents in his childhood, Tolstoy lands in a life full of agonies. For instance, though he secures a chance in the university, he drops before he is through. All his works depict his life experiences right from childhood to his present status. In all his accounts, he declares that all his pains and sufferings arise from his inability to realize the exact and working connotation of life. His novella, A Confession is no more than a result of his realization of this meaning of life. According to him, neither philosophies nor his arts could unfold this realization. He has suffered much because of the impact of the gap between him and life. It is not until he comes to accept the gap, and hence death when he registers a clear picture of life, based on God, who is above all and who by faith provides all the answers to all puzzles of life. Since Tolstoy cannot get the answer to his depressions and lost comfort, he devotes himself to seeking them because he knows death must meet him one day and he ought to meet God for these answers. However, Ivan perceives death as a source of fear and hence subject to denial.
Ivan Illyich, the hero of the tale fears death and even denies its existence. He cannot give way to anything that can draw him closer to trouble that in turn nears him to death. This fear is evident when he is being diagnosed by his doctors following an injury. When the doctor says “This and that proves that you have this and that…” (Tolstoy 112), he feels much eager to know what ‘this and that’ implies about his health. He asks, “Is this condition dangerous or not?” (Tolstoy 112). He simply wants to know whether he is subject to death or not. He adopts a life free of such troubles. “He was the happy mean between them- a shrewd, lively, pleasant, and well-bred man” (Tolstoy 96). This is a clear indication of how far he is ahead of predicaments. “As an examining magistrate…successful in gaining respect…” (Tolstoy 98). This depicts the rank that made him secure funds that he could use to get anything, provided it results in happiness rather than troubles. For instance, when his pregnant wife’s behavior turns to disrupt him, he opts to extend his time in the office to minimize their interactions. His falling induces a lot of discomforts and thus he has to find out effective ways of arresting his aching conditions. That is why he looks for qualified physicians to treat him of the pain because he does not imagine dying but little does he know, death is inevitable and must be encountered by all, him inclusive. His condition worsens when virtually all, but Gerasim, abandon him not minding his situation. He then figures his past life to see whether it can be the result of his sufferings, but since he fears death, he cannot accept that his life past life was bad. He encourages himself by claiming that it was good. Following his ever-worsening conditions, he narrows down his thoughts to the issue of death, accepts its existence and its inevitability. Immediately after this realization, he experiences some relief and later dies.
In conclusion, it stands out that many perceive death differently. While some view it as a relief to their troubles, others fear it and deny its existence. According to Tolstoy death is inevitable; however, Ivan Ilyich denies this fact and lives by its abnegation and fear. Death is like a change, it is inevitable, and must be faced by all, come their time including you and me.
Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Russia: Penguin Red Classic Edition, 2006.