Essay On The Death of Ivan Ilyich

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The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Tolstoy believes that there are two types of lives right from the onset of the novel. He proposes that there is artificial life and the authentic life. Artificial life is represented by the main character, Ivan, Peter, Preaskovya and all the people in their lives. This is a group of people that are focused on the artificial and temporary aspects of life (Tolstoy, 1981). The aspects of life entail the development of the images that will resonate with the rest of the beliefs of the society.

The artificial life forfeits focusing on the things that actually matter in the living of any human being. This means that artificial life is the aspect of human living that it pervaded with the objects of ostentation. It entails the conformation to the set standards. It ensure that a person has a right standing with the members of the society or caste system (Tolstoy, 1981). All building blocks of the artificial life in the book are the aspect of life that are upheld by the social class.

Emphasis of people leading the artificial life includes the creation of the shallow relationships build on the superficial impressions, pursuit of self-interests and the pervasive and vane search for the materialistic appeal (Tolstoy, 1981). Artificial life is superficial and temporary. It is unfulfilling towards the twilight of a person’s life since it is incapable of providing the answers to the meaning of the human existence.

Ivan represents the people that lead the artificial life since at the point of his death his comrades are unwilling to be with him and leave him to handle the experience alone. Even the ones that are purported to be part of the inner circle of friends are nowhere to be found during the moment of need (Tolstoy, 1981). Ivan has to deal with the fear of life with a stranger by the name of Gerasim.
Authentic life

Authentic life represents the more meaningful living whereby the person is moved by the pity and compassion for the other person. The relationships in the authentic life are more real than in the artificial life since compassion and pity work in the either ways. As opposed to an opportunist approach whereby a person is a means to an end, in the authentic life, the people are individuals that have to be approached and treated in the right manner (Tolstoy, 1981).

The treatment of the individuals with respect and uniqueness is what makes the authentic life more fulfilling. In the human interactions, the use of the others to attain a certain goal may be pervasive. However, in the authentic life, the people in one’s life are elements that have to be approached with care and difference (Tolstoy, 1981). The individual thoughts, desires and feeling are important in the authentic life compared to the artificial life.

Authentic life is based on the true affirmation of the human contact. As opposed to the isolation that is present in the artificial life, the authentic life allows a person to lead a life whereby all the human relationships are built on the respect of one another and the recognition of the individuality and importance of the people (Tolstoy, 1981). Breaking of isolation that is common is artificial life allows the people living the authentic life to come up with the true interpersonal relationships.

Authentic life fosters the development of the comfort and empathy. Therefore, the people are in solidarity in all that they do. A common approach to the living of the people living the authentic life is the respect of the other person and assisting him or her in as much as possible regardless of the previous history that the two interacting beings have (Tolstoy, 1981). Therefore, it focuses on the actual humanity and not the temporary aspects, as it is the case with the artificial life.

People that lead the artificial life have their lives pervaded by fear and terror of death. Most notably, they are afraid of dying since they do not have the power to manipulate death and come up with the interventions, as it is the case in the normal life. The life that they lead is based on the ability to manipulate the outcomes in their favor. In the artificial life, there is no validity of any action when it is naturally occurring. Death be fables the people leading artificial lives since they are have no power over it (Tolstoy, 1981).

They also fear it since it is the only aspect of their lives that they cannot deal with in their accustomed manner. Ivan approaches life from the above perspective before his meeting with Gerasim. He lives in fear. However, during the encounter with Gerasim, he acknowledges the futility of the fear since death is inevitable.

He also recognizes that he has had a lapse in his life’s approach since what he focused on did not last. He notices that he led a life full of false mirages of friendship and value. He also acknowledges the importance of the next person in his life since the people that he presumed to be important are willing to watch from a distance as he dies. He realizes the importance of spirituality at the point of his death and acknowledges that is an integral aspect.

Reading the story has exposed the common fears in life and their effects on the development of life. Being able to find fulfillment in life is hinged on the ability of the person to understand the aspects that make life valuable (Tolstoy, 1981). Oddly, the aspects that are of value in one’s life are those that come freely.

The life of a person will be evaluated by the way he or she has enjoyed it and not according to what he has been able to accumulate. Accumulation of wealth bad building of a status is insufficient in the fulfilment of life. Focusing on the things that matter such as being happy and real leads to the development of value in life. The other lesson learnt is that there are few people that are real in life (Tolstoy, 1981). The only real people are often strangers that do not have any connection but treat one with respect by the virtue that they are human beings. One should always look for real friends since they are the source of value in life.

The depictions in the story are true. They resonate with the lives of most people. For instance, life is full of opportunistic relationships, which will collapse in the event that the goal of the opportunist is attained or otherwise. People stick around to take advantage of the person and what he or she can offer. After the realization of the goal, there is no additional value apportioned to the person, the relationships eventually fail (Tolstoy, 1981). The inevitability of death is a major point that comes out of the story. However, a more important aspect that manifests in the story is that death is the inevitable point of evaluation of the value of the life that one led.


Tolstoy, L. (1981). The death of Ivan Ilyich. Toronto: Bantam Books.