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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Essay on "Death of Ivan Ilych"


The Death of Ivan Ilych tells the story of the life and death of a judge of a high court in Russia.  He was a member of the Russia’s upper class.  By all standards he can be considered as a successful and professional man but he was a miserable husband, and uncaring and inattentive father.  Ilych spent almost his entire life climbing the social ladder and wanting to become a member of Russia’s social elite.  For many years that was all that was important to him.  In the process, he amassed more wealth, social recognition and power but in the end he realized that his whole life was a failure, that he chased the wrong dream and that a poor peasant was even better than him because he had understood what life was all about.

The major conflict in the story is in the character of Ivan Ilych.  Ivan Ilych throughout most of the second half of the story encountered so much difficulty with the idea of death.  The first major conflict is the struggle in accepting the physical pain and eventual death.  After injuring a vital organ of his body, he began to feel the pain.  The pain was at first bearable.  As days passed by, however, the pain became more unbearable.  It was after his trips and visits to many doctors that he knew that the pain will not go away and that he was dying.  At first he hated the idea of him dying soon.  This is evident in the following passages under Chapter XII, to wit:

From that moment the screaming began that continued for three days, and was so terrible that one could not hear it through two closed doors without horror. At the moment he answered his wife realized that he was lost, that there was no return, that the end had come, the very end, and his doubts were still unsolved and remained doubts.
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" he cried in various intonations. he had begun by screaming "I won't!" and continued screaming on the letter "O".

He could not accept that everything he worked for will only go to waste.  He started to hate his wife, his children and even himself.  He hated his family members and everyone around them for being unmindful of the pain he is experiencing.  Towards the end of the story, however, a dramatic transformation happened when he finally understood the true meaning of life, realized that he had spent his entire life chasing after the wrong things and accepted that his life will soon come to an end.


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Ivan Ilych character reminds me of the character of Goodman Brown in the story Young Goodman Brown.  Just like Ivan Ilych, Goodman Brown experienced a struggle within himself.  In the case of Ivan Ilych, he struggled with accepting the true nature and essence of life and how a person should live his life.  Goodman Brown, however, struggled with the demons inside him.  He also could not accept the fact that nobody is perfect.  He initially thought that certain persons in his community were nice and incapable of committing a sin. 

Just like Ivan Ilych, Goodman Brown experienced the reality of life.  In the case of Ivan Ilych, he learned that death was inevitable and that he made the wrong decisions in life.  The same is evident in the following passages under Chapter XII, to wit: 

At that very moment Ivan Ilych fell through and caught sight of the light, and it was revealed to him that though his life had not been what it should have been, this could still be rectified. He asked himself, "What *is* the right thing?" and grew still, listening. Then he felt that someone was kissing his hand. He opened his eyes, looked at his son, and felt sorry for him. His wife camp up to him and he glanced at her. She was gazing at him open-mouthed, with undried tears on her nose and cheek and a despairing look on her face. He felt sorry for her too.

Towards the end of the story, Goodman Brown realized that most of us only have reputation of being good but deep inside we all have secrets.       Young Goodman Brown is a classic duel between good and evil.  What makes this story different though is that the battle takes place inside a person’s heart.  Young Goodman Brown accurately portrays the battle that goes on every day in every person’s heart and mind. 

One major theme that pervades the entire story is the inevitability of death.  Death is one thing that happens to everybody.  No matter how lofty and high a person’s social stature is there will come a time when he will slowly wither and die.  People get sick and they die.  There is no rich or poor in death.  It does not matter whether one is a lawyer or a lowly garbage collector.  While death has always been understood to be the end of everything, for Ivan Ilych the prospect of death made him realize the truth about life that has been hidden from him all his life.  He has been immersed in the mediocrity and artificiality of life that he has forgotten how it is to care and to love other people but himself.  That death is an unstoppable force that is capable of helping a person realize things about life is shown in the passages below, to wit:

“Her dress, her figure, the expression of her face, the tone of her voice, all revealed the same thing. "This is wrong, it is not as it should be. All you have lived for and still live for is falsehood and deception, hiding life and death from you." And as soon as he admitted that thought, his hatred and his agonizing physical suffering again sprang up, and with that suffering a consciousness of the unavoidable, approaching end. And to this was added a new sensation of grinding shooting pain and a feeling of suffocation.”

The major turning point in the story is the time he realized that he was dying and that death is near.  It was the major turning point since it was at the time that he come to understanding that he had long been dead even before the accident.  Ivan Ilych realized that the customs and traditions of the aristocracy which he had held sacred and important were the causes of his metaphorical death.  When he chased after wealth, social status, and power all his life, he had lost himself in the process.  He had forgotten about the fact that he had led a simple life before that but he was happy.  He had forgotten about the fact that he had a family.  He had forgotten about the fact that there are other persons whose concerns and issues are much more important that his. This realization was evident in the following passages under Chapter XI, to wit:

It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true. It occurred to him that his scarcely perceptible attempts to struggle against what was considered good by the most highly placed people, those scarcely noticeable impulses which he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing, and all the rest false. And his professional duties and the whole arrangement of his life and of his family, and all his social and official interests, might all have been false. He tried to defend all those things to himself and suddenly felt the weakness of what he was defending. There was nothing to defend.

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