The Antonym of Life Essay

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Recurring Western Preoccupation

One of the most frequently recurring themes in Westernized culture is that of death. This motif is certainly evinced in a number of forms of literature -- particularly those esteemed to possess literary value -- including Leo Tolstoy's "Death of Ivan Ilyich" and in Henrik Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler." Death dominates the plot of both of these works of literature. There are multiple deaths in Ibsen's work, whereas the protagonist in Tolstoy's realizes early on that he is fated to die and the proverbial shadow of death looms over the ensuing pages. An analysis of the thematic device of death and its importance in both of these works reveals that it largely functions as a petty escape in Ibsen's text, and is a means to a more profound level of transcendence in that of Tolstoy.

There is a point of despair that accompanies both of the deaths portrayed in Hedda Gabler, particularly in that of the initial death (which is the suicide of Eilert Lovborg). Lovborg is an acclaimed writer who has misplaced a highly anticipated manuscript to one of his more popular works during a drunken escapade. Distraught over the loss, he turns to the titular character for sympathy or help. Instead, Gabler attempts to persuade the writer to kill himself, since he has lost his manuscript. She also proffers the notion that there is no way for him to regain the
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work and that his only escape is a sure death. The titular character in Tolstoy's work also comes to a point of despair. Ilyich has a mysterious ailment that is going to kill him. That fact, that he knows he will die soon, makes him despair and puts him at odds with the majority of his family -- most noticeably his wife and daughter. However, he is able to discern the difference between an authentic and an artificial life shortly before he dies, so that when he dies he actually has no fear of death and contentedly welcomes a transition beyond life. Death is not an escape for him.

In the second death depicted in Ibsen's work, death is unambiguously viewed as an alternative when there are no other alternatives. The fact that such a fate awaits Gabler is particularly significant since she helped to convince Lovborg of much the same fact. Her role in Lovborg's death is known by a judge, who tells the wife that he can reveal her role in it publicly and implies that she is in his power until she does. Gabler believes that such a life -- within the power of another, who could choose to betray her and her fatal secret whenever he desires to, is not much of a life at all. Thus, she decided to commit suicide because she believes that her life is already over, and that she has no alternative but to kill herself. This sort of fatalistic view…

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