Essay on The Death of Ivan Ilyich: Spiritual Awakening

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The Death of Ivan Ilyich:   Spiritual Awakening     

 

He went to his study, lay down, and once again was left alone with it. Face to face with It,

unable to do anything with It. Simply look at It and grow numb with horror" (Tolstoy, 97).

Death takes on an insidious persona as it eats away at Ivan Ilyich, a man horrified at the prospect of losing his life. Even more horrifying is the realization that despite his prominence and prosperity as a Russian high court judge, Ilyich has done nothing to make his life worth saving.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich begins at the end, with his associates receiving the news of his passing. Here, Tolstoy emphasizes the diffident attitude the living
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From here, he develops a mysterious degenerative disease that causes him great pain and mental anguish. His familiars remain indifferent to his plight, driving him to greater anger, despair, and desperation. With exhausting pain and sorrow, Ilyich reassesses the value of his life in his final hours, allowing him to confront his imminent death with greater honor than he had ever achieved in his life.

The pathos of these ending scenes display Tolstoy's brilliance in characterization. Through his grotesque description of the illness itself: the morphine shots, reoccurring pains, and the degradation of assisted bowel movements, Tolstoy yields not only audience sympathy, but actual empathy for poor Ilyich. Suffering, under any circumstances, is universally understood. So too, is the terrifying prospect of losing one's life. Whereas no one around him can understand and react to his misery, the reader is driven to pity him. The death of Ivan Ilyich comes as a relief to all. Ilyich is relieved from the pain of dying and living a lie, his friends and family are relieved of obligation to the dying man, and the reader is relieved of a most harrowing emotional journey.

Initially, Tolstoy presents himself with a formidable challenge, eliciting compassion for a character that does not ostensibly deserve any sympathy. However, Tolstoy expands Ivan Ilyich into a complex protagonist with artless