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The Death of Ivan Ilych

The Death of Ivan Ilych

The Death of Ivan Ilych research paper due and don't know how to start it? How about like this?

Write a critical analysis of "The Death of Ivan Ilych" by Leo Tolstoy. Find a focus and analyze the work. A piece of literature must support, must justify, your interpretation. Literature can have multiple interpretations, but it can't have just any interpretation. The burden is on you to provide sufficient evidence to make your interpretation persuasive. Allow your research to point you in the right direction. For assistance, review some of the several student paper topics you see below in our links section.

Avoid generalization and vague description. Focus your topic idea. Use specific language to explain your analysis. To focus your topic, consider the way we have examined literature in this course. Your book breaks it down into different aspects of writing such as point of view, theme, irony, symbol, setting, and so forth. Consider approaching your topic through one of those lenses. Although more challenging, also consider analyzing the story or drama from the viewpoint of formal literary criticism such as psychological criticism or gender criticism.

Note: Too many students turn literary analysis into a biography book report rather than use the biography to deeply analyze the story.

References: You must include a minimum of 4 sources from an online library literature databases. The story you are analyzing from your textbook must also be included as an item in Works Cited, but it does not count as one of the four outside sources. I will not accept sources from the general Internet.

In the story, The Death of Ivan Ilych, we have a depiction of a man living according to the dictates of a society in which absurd conventions have rendered life meaningless. In the world in which Ivan lives there is one-and only one-sane human being and that is the servant, Gerasim. All of the other adult characters are people who have been driven insane by the artificialities of upper middle class Russian life according to the following:

  • By ambition
  • By materialism
  • By the pursuit of money
  • By the need to conform to behavioral norms which emphasize reputability to the exclusion of all that is sincere, spontaneous, and wholesome

In Ivan Ilych we have the expression of an alienated mentality, Tolstoy's mentality, and the story can be taken as an instance of wish fulfillment on the author's part. For, in the character of Ivan we have a man who, driven by an incurable illness, is forced to see things in the way that Tolstoy wished the members of upper class Russian society to see them.

Ivan Ilych is an upwardly mobile man of the law. He is someone akin to the slightly left-wing yuppies of our time. He advances to a judicial post in the Russian civil service, marries well, has children, enjoys a game of cards, and proves adept at his work, and at maintaining his place in society. This type of life might be acceptable to some people. To Tolstoy it is not. He says, "Ivan Ilych's life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible". He portrays Ivan's life as taking place in a web of deceit, his own and others. The reaction of his colleagues to Ivan's death is smug and self-satisfied. Those who hear of it, "have the complacent feeling that, 'it is he that is dying and not I'". When these colleagues learn of his death, their real response is to consider what his removal from the scene will mean in terms "of the changes and promotions it might occasion among themselves or their acquaintances". Ivan's relationship with his family is essentially cold and formal, something devoid of real love.

Ivan and the people in the society in which he moves are hollow people. They have no great passions and no sincere beliefs and they do not really think outside of the mechanical domain of their social roles and official duties. For them the moral quantities of "right" and "wrong" are not matters of religious belief or thoughtful reflection, but are matters of adhering to social conventions, "he [Ivan] considered his duty to be what was so considered by those in authority". He has no conception of the spiritual and moral sterility of this life, but it is sterile and deeply so. Tolstoy states, "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".

But all of this comes to an end when he finds out that, due to a slight accident, he has suffered internal damage which means that he will die. He discovers that the people who surround him-with the exception of Gerasim-have absolutely no interest in him as a human being, that in the midst of "family" and "friends" he has to, while in the process of dying, live "on the brink of an abyss, with no one who understood or pitied him". The conventional mores and norms of society have bred a situation in which there is no sincerity in relations between human beings, no fellow-feeling, no love.

Gerasim is a peasant youth, someone born and raised outside the artificial world in which Ivan has lived all his life. Tolstoy is at pains to indicate to the reader Gerasim's freshness, his sincerity, his ingenuousness, and his possession of a wise and sympathetic spirit, a spirit that enables him to offer true sympathy, service, and comfort to his dying master. Everyone else lies to Ivan about his condition; Gerasim does not. No one pities him; Gerasim does. It is the lying and the lack of pity that most torment Ivan and it is only Gerasim who cuts through these things and has a relationship with him based on the knowledge that he too, Gerasim, will die someday.

For Ivan Ilych the journey into death is unpleasant enough, but its unpleasantness is heightened by a journey into a state of knowledge in which he comes to recognize that he has lived a mean-spirited, trivial, frivolous life, that by moving in lock step with society he has "been going downhill while I imagined I was going up". This story reflects the world view of Tolstoy, a man who was disgusted with the polite society of his time, a man who longed for something different, a world in which people tell the truth to one another, love one another, are not acquisitive, are free to live according to the dictates of their conscience, and who have the liberty to actually evolve something called a conscience. In Ivan's social world there is something called "pleasure," but there is nothing resembling "happiness."

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