Book the Death of Ivan Ilyich Term Paper

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Death of Ivan Ilych

Before we interpret some of the main religious ideas behind Tolstoy's story, we will first examine some of the main characters who surround Ivan Ilych, during his life and during his long tortuous death struggles.

The reader first meets Peter Ivanovich in the very opening of the story. We soon learn that he works with Ivan Ilych in the "Law Courts" and that as youths they had studied law together. Tolstoy immediately puts a dark cloud over this assumed intimacy and affection, by clearly stating that the death of Peter Ivanovich's close friend does not engender pity or sadness, but rather, speculation on the "changes and promotions it might occasion among themselves." It is at the side of the character Peter Ivanovich that we, the readers, first enter the death room of Ivan Ilych, and first see his home, his family, and his laid out body in the coffin. We share his uncomfortableness during the scene: not quite knowing the proper way to behave, the right actions to take, and the right things to say. However our feelings for him are quickly changed when we see his real interest is in arranging his card game for the evening. Even in front of his friend's dead body, he can only think of getting away from the scene and sitting down to some gambling. We soon realize that his lifestyle is precisely the same as Ivan Ilych's was before his fateful fall. In a way he represents the life that the man in the coffin has given up, or transcended.

Gerasim is the faithful "butler's assistant" who is constantly at Ivan Ilych's side during his long slow descent into death. We know that Tolstoy idolized the Russian peasant, and Gerasim is obviously symbolic of all that the author found good in this sort of "salt-of-the-earth" character. He is portrayed as strong, healthy, simple, helpful, and sincere. He is a sort of opposite type to all the other scheming, crafty "civilized" people who populate the book. Ivan Ilych prefers to be with Gerasim above all others, and is even willing to accept his pity and sympathy, while he shows nothing but hatred towards the others if they try to show similar emotions towards the dying man. It is interesting that the only position he feels soothed is when he "has his legs resting on Gerasim's shoulders." Is Tolstoy suggesting that the upper classes in Russia have built up their cherished positions literally on the shoulders of the peasants? It is an interesting image that he presents many times towards the end of the story.

Proskovya Fedorovna is Ivan Ilych's wife. The reader's first introduction to her is not very favorable. Tolstoy immediately shows her as primarily interested in the financial aspects of her husband's death. She wonders if she can get more money from the government as a pension, and she tries to find a cheaper plot for Ivan's body. In a discussion with Peter Ivanovich about her husband's final painful days, she reveals her true selfish being when she ends saying: "Oh, what I have suffered." We learn that he had married his wife because she "came of a good family, was not bad looking, and had some little property." Ivan Ilych did not seem to much value his new companion, and was definitely not passionately in love with her. Tolstoy makes this clear when he combines (and therefore equates) his new household items with his marital affection: "conjugal caresses, the new furniture, new crockery and the new linen, were very…

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