Short Summary of “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy Essay

Amanda Kopinski Philosophy of the Human Person 09-12-2010 Summary of The Death of Ivan Ilyich The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy begins at the chronological end of Ivan Ilyich’s life. Members of a court proceeding were on break of the Melvinsky proceedings, and Pyotr Ivanovich proclaimed: “Ivan Ilyich is dead” (35). All the men in the courtroom at the time were supposedly “close acquaintances” of Ivan, but none remarked at the sadness of his death, but rather the chance of promotion all of the men would chance now that Ivan’s spot was opened.

Ivanovich, however, was Ivan’s “closest acquaintance,” as Ivan did not actually have real friends although he was well liked amongst his colleagues. Ivanovich goes to Ilyich’s house, and Ivan’s wife, Praskovya, takes him up to the room where the casket containing the corpse lay. Ivanovich remarks that “his face had acquired an expression of greater beauty…It’s expression implied that what needed to be done had been done and done properly” (39-41). Praskovya and Ivanich then discuss the suffering that Ilyich went through on his deathbed and Ivanich mentions how sad death really is.

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Ivan Ilyich’s life was described as “most simple and commonplace—and most horrifying” (49). He lived an average life with an average family. He married his first “love” because he thought it was right to do, and attended a job to support his wife and he. His job is within the subject of Law, so his job-field is already knowingly busy. He and his wife lived comfortably until they end up having their first child, and things begin to go from easygoing to complicated.

His wife becomes easily agitated, and Ilyich realizes he is no longer on a smooth road, and their relationship would require work. Over time, Ilyich begins to spend more time working than with his family at home, and when he is at his home, he decides to invite company to distract him from family affairs. Ilyich also ends up losing his job due to financial stresses, but gets a higher when there is an opening on a level in the Department of Justice. The financial stresses seem lessened after this advancement, but Ilyich is still stressed with much else in his life.

Ilyich begins to feel he has moved up wealthier, and decides he needs to portray affluence. He begins small renovations on his home, along with moving around furniture. One day as hanging drapery, he injures his head. He unexpectedly is happy with this situation and proclaims: “It’s a good thing I’m so agile. Another man would have killed himself, but I got off with a little bump here” (67). This is not necessarily the case, however, as Ivan eventually ends up feeling discomfort in his side, and an uncomfortable taste in his mouth.

He goes to many doctors, who all diagnose him differently, but settles on appendicitis. The medication does not end up working, however, and over time Ilyich grows more and more uncomfortable and, after seeing a portrait of himself compared to his ghastly reflection in the present, soon realizes he is just slowly dying. Ivan suffers, and his strength slowly deteriorates. He loses the ability to walk, then the ability to leave bed, and soon is left bedridden. Ilyich’s buttler, Gerasim, seems to be the only person who cares about Ivan’s predicament.

While Ivan’s wife, children and friends seem unphazed by his slow death, Gerasim comforts Ilyivh and holds his feet. Over the next week or so, Ivan is left to think in bed with nothing else to do. He relives his life in memories, and looks back on time. He realizes “the farther back in time he went, the more life he found. There had been more goodness in his life earlier and more of life itself” (123). The climax of the story is reached in the last two chapters of the story. Ilyich lays eyes on Gersham’s face, and wonders if he lived life “correctly. In the last chapter, he ends up deciding to ask for forgiveness for not living right with his family. His last words out loud include “sorry for him…and you” (133) to his wife, and he means to say “forgive” as well, but only says “forget” before losing his breath. Although his may have not been clear to those living with him, Ivan dies content, and this explains his look of “life” although he was dead as seen by Ivanovich.

Works Cited Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Toronto: Bantam, 1981. Print.

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