This is a critical essay about the Death of Ivan Ilych that was written in 1886. It was the first most important fictional work published by Leo Tolstoy after his disaster and conversion. The religious philosophies of Tolstoy serve as a background to the understanding of the fiction story of The Death of Ivan Ilych. The values that became important to Tolstoy in the second half of his life include: brotherly love, mutual support and Christian charity emerged as the dominant moral principles in the death of Ivan Ilych. The Ivan Ilych’s awakening exposes him to the light of a meaningful life and alleviates his fear of dying. The death of Ivan Ilych can be seen as true reflection of and an elaboration of Tolstoy’s philosophical concerns after conversion. The novel is a fictional answer to the questions that afflicted Tolstoy during the middle of 1870s. Tolstoy died in 1910 after almost a ten year period of continuing ill health. The three themes: the right to life, the inevitability of death and inner life as opposed to the outer life are discussed from the critical point of view in the essay.
The right life
Tolstoy beliefs that there are two kinds of lives: the artificial life which is represented by Ivan, Praskovya, Peter, and nearly everyone in Ivan’s society and company; and the authentic life represented by Gerasim. The artificial life is characterized by superficial relationships, self-interest, and materialism. It is also inward-looking, not fulfilling, and eventually incapable of providing answers to the vital questions in life. The artificial life is a deception that hides life’s true meaning and leaves one terrified and alone at the moment of death. Alternatively, the authentic life is characterized by pity and compassion. The authentic life promotes reciprocally affirming human relationships that ends isolation and allows for true interpersonal contact. While the artificial life leaves one unaccompanied and empty, the authentic life embraces strength through unity and relieve through empathy. Thus it creates bonds and gets one read to meet death.
The authentic life is not the right life because of the following reasons: empathizing with one does not relieve pain; there’s no total self-sacrificing love for others and no true interpersonal contact, this is evident when Gerasim considers that just empathizing with Ivan’s plight and relieving his isolation is more important than the physical support of holding Ivan’s legs. Also, there’s no genuine personal involvement because compassion and love must go both ways; both must benefit from the relationship (Tolstoy, 2010).
The inevitability of death
As Ivan steadily approaches death, it is also the time that he starts to recognize his death and his search for a compromise with its terrible and nullifying influence. The question of how is one to make sense of the end of one’s life, of one’s relationships, projects, and dreams, of one’s very existence is a dilemma. It is not true that as Ivan’s approach to life changes, prompted by pain and the prospect of death, his emotions progress from sheer terror to utter joy. Also the avoidance of death that depicts Ivan’s social situation is founded on an illusion meant to protect people from distasteful realities which only lead to horror, emptiness, and dissatisfaction. However, accepting death and the identification of the right unpredictable nature of life allows for peace, confidence and sometimes joy at death point. The death of Ivan is a lesson on making sense of death by living rightly (Tolstoy, 2010).
Inner life opposed to Outer life
Tolstoy portrays human existence as a conflict between the inner and the outer, the spiritual life and the physical life in both the artificial and authentic life. For the longer time of his life, Ivan beliefs that he is a purely physical being. He does not absolutely show any indication of any spiritual life in his physical being. Ivan lives for the good of his own flesh and relates only with those who promote his desires. This is not true since Ivan mistakes his physical life for his true spiritual life. Ivan supposes that his existence is the right one, and he rejects to see the mistake of his life. As a consequence of denying the spiritual life, Ivan is not capable of outdoing the physical life. As he holds on to the belief; he experiences agonizing pain, total terror and irresistible unhappiness. However, when the view of his death compels Ivan to deal with his isolation, he steadily begins to realize the importance of the spiritual life. As the understanding of Ivan continues to grow, he starts to replace the physical life with the spiritual life. It is then he moves past suffering, overcomes death and experiences intense joy. Hence the duty of each person is to identify the twofold of the self and to live such that the less important physical life matches to most important spiritual life (Tolstoy, 2010).
The three themes depicted from Tolstoy’s story about the death of Ivan Ilych include: the right life, the inevitability of death and the inner life as opposed to outer life. Tolstoy beliefs that there are two kinds of lives: the artificial life which is represented by Ivan, Praskovya, Peter, and nearly everyone in Ivan’s society and company; the authentic life represented by Gerasim. The artificial life is characterized by superficial relationships, self-interest, and materialism. Alternatively, the authentic life is characterized by pity, promotes reciprocally affirming of human relationships and compassion. According to the inevitability of death, it is not true that accepting death and the identification of the right unpredictable nature of life allows for peace, confidence and sometimes joy at death point. Finally, Tolstoy portrays human existence as a conflict between the inner and the outer, the spiritual and the physical in both the artificial and authentic life which is not true since they are dual things.