Sidharth Vardhan

Of Dying – a review of ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’

Death of Ivan Illytch leo tolstoy sidharth vardhan review analysis
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Published: 1886
he Death of Ivan Ilyich is the story of a worldly careerist, a high court judge who has never given the inevitability of his dying so much as a passing thought. But one day, death announces itself to him, and to his shocked surprise, he is brought face to face with his own mortality. 

(A review of 'The Death of Ivan Ilych'
a novel by Leo Tolstoy
First reviewed on February 27, 2015)

“Ivan Ilych's life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible."

Leo Tolstoy (The Death of Ivan Ilych)

How do you define an interesting life? Ivan has seen it all one can normally expect to see in a life – he has loved, he has married, has have children, has seen ups and downs in his professional life – yet the moment death shows its face, he comes to conclusion that his life was futile - everything is so ordinary including the very cause of his death. He comes to wonder at the meaninglessness of everything he has done:

“Can it be that I have not lived as one ought?" suddenly came into his head. "But how not so, when I've done everything as it should be done?”

Leo Tolstoy (The Death of Ivan Ilych)

With each successive chapter, his health declines and death becomes more and more real, initially he is fully focused on saving his life. His family and friends, it seems to him, are not taking his disease with enough attention.

"but that what was for him the greatest and most cruel injustice appeared to others a quite ordinary occurrence.”

Leo Tolstoy (The Death of Ivan Ilych)

In fact, when he stays sick over a long time – he comes to be seen as a disturbance by them, something that is stopping them from getting on with their life. He is so much more disappointed in all this that he comes to see death as welcome relief.

'Death of Ivan Ilych' looks into mind of a dying person and is deceptively brief. If you have ever been around a really sick person and find him really annoying here is a chance to see the terrible loneliness faced by her/him:

"And he has to live like this on the edge of destruction, alone, with nobody at all to understand or pity him”

Leo Tolstoy (The Death of Ivan Ilych)

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