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Explain at least 3 different sources of suffering in Leo Tolstoy's the Death of Ivan Ilych
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy is a novel penned in 1886 by a great Russian author and perhaps an even greater moralist in regards to the essence of suffering. There are three core aspects of suffering delineated over the course of the novel, namely the suffering of the physical body -- deemed to be the least significant for Tolstoy, the suffering of the empty self in a bankrupt society, and finally the suffering of the lost self, or the life unlived by the protagonist.
The first of these aspects of suffering is that of the physical and is perhaps the most obvious. This source, namely the exterior cause of the death of the protagonist, is referred to early on. "Ivan Ilych had been a colleague of the gentlemen present" at the law court where he worked (deemed by Tolstoy to be an immoral place) "and was liked by them all," (again, not a compliment in the author's eyes.) "He [Ivan Ilych] had been ill for some weeks with an illness said to be incurable." (Chapter I) Yet Ilych is relatively young, "He had been a member of the Court of Justice, and died at the age of forty-five." (Chapter II)
The tragedy of Ivan's life, however, is not his young, physical death, but his utter lack of real life, even when he was alive. The second form is the general baseness of human existence, a suffering of emotional emptiness and vacuitiousness where the soul is dependant upon society alone, rather than upon any spiritual basis or sense of a personal morality connected to a higher ethical schema. "Ivan Ilych's life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible." (Chapter II) In other words, Ivan's life is empty. Although Tolstoy, as a Christian moralist, believes in the importance of a connection of the soul with a 'higher power,' even philosophers such as Spinoza would have little problem 'diagnosing' the problem of Ivan as not simply a lack of religion, but a lack of a higher rational ethical system on which to base Ivan's character.
Ivan, lacking a moral base, essentially fluctuates in his ethical schema with the prevailing social wind, and consequentially derives little joy from life. "Neither as a boy nor as a man was he a toady, but from early youth was by nature attracted to people of high station as a fly is drawn to the light, assimilating their ways and views of life and establishing friendly relations with them. All the enthusiasms of childhood and youth passed without leaving much trace on him; he succumbed to sensuality, to vanity, and latterly among the highest classes to liberalism, but always within limits which his instinct unfailingly indicated to him as correct...At school he had done things which had formerly seemed to him very horrid and made him feel disgusted with himself when he did them; but when later on he saw that such actions were done by people of good position and that they did not regard them as wrong, he was able not exactly to regard them as right, but to forget about them entirely or not be at all troubled at remembering them." (Chapter II) In other words, Ivan's lack of a moral base, rather than being a source of pleasure, as common wisdom might hold, is in fact the source of his lack of ability to truly delight in a full life. Lacking a rational reason for his existence, Spinoza would state, Ivan falls into despair.
Tolstoy takes a less rationalist approach, and a more emotive, moral expression of Ivan's ultimate suffering, namely that Ivan has lived a life that is essentially unlived. Tolstoy's protagonist Ilych may receive societal approbation because of his vocational role in society, but it provides him with no inner satisfaction, that thus no real rewards. "As examining magistrate Ivan Ilych was just as comme il faut and decorous a man, inspiring general respect and capable of separating his official duties from his private life, as he had been when acting as an official on special service. His duties now as examining magistrate were fare more interesting and attractive than before," and yet ultimately Ivan's life is a toil to him because it remains unlived, and lacks any personal sphere where Ivan, as opposed to societal norms and convictions can exist.
Even the physical site of the home of the magistrate and his wife is created for the eyes of others, "But the result was charming not only in his eyes but to everyone who saw it. In reality it was just what is usually seen in the houses of people of moderate means who want to appear rich, and therefore succeed only in resembling others like themselves: there are damasks, dark wood, plants, rugs, and dull and polished bronzes -- all the things people of a certain class have in order to resemble other people of that class." (Chapter III) Ivan's third and greatest source of suffering thus is his unlived life; his empty home of a soul filled with overstuffed furnishings.
Explain the significance of Gerasim In "The Death of Ivan Ilych" as far as Gerasim is an authentic person
Ironically, for Ivan, the only human being who shows any true loyalty to him is his servant, Gerasim. Gerasim functions less as a human being, and more as a symbolic creature who represents all that is good, and all that Ivan has rejected in his life. Yet Gerasim is the only individual who stays with Ivan until the very end. Gerasim may be content to serve, and does not lead. However, his life is authentic, despite his lack of intellectual prowess, because he is true to himself and to the moral convictions he has, regarding serving his master.
The tragedy of Gerasim's master's life Ivan is that only in Ivan's early death does he realize the limits of his socially constructed life. Only by losing his life, does Ivan truly understand the meaning of his life and the limits of having an empty self-reliant upon the good view of socially forward individuals. By gaining the love of a servant, and realizing the importance of a genuine soul, Ivan, by dying, attains true life, in Tolstoy's Christian conceptualization of humanity's final end and moral resting place. Gerasim, however, makes less sense a non-Christian moral framework, given his utter lack of awareness to his effects upon Ivan in an intellectual fashion, as well as the fact that only death leads to life in Tolstoy's view.
Explain the difference between the social self and genius in Emerson's Self-Reliance essay
The American Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson created, in his essay "Self-Reliance" a profound distinction between the social self and the notion of the independent genius. Emerson believed that the social self all human beings construct in relation to others is essentially a false self, contrary to the creative and independent workings of the human spirit. "There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide," writes Emerson at the beginning of his essay. (Emerson, 1841)
Emerson's meaning in this statement is simply not that all human beings are geniuses. However, the philosopher does believe that all human beings have certain intrinsic gifts, and rather than attempting to shape those gifts according to a pre-existing template, the individual must look within him or herself and bring out those gifts to their fullest flowering, whatever those gifts may be. It is interesting to compare this notion of the human mind to the Spinoza/rationalist/Platonic view of mental consciousness, through which by learning about certain truths,…[continue]
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