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Analysis of The Characters in The Death of Ivan Ilyich

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The book “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” is a novella, the main character is the Ivan Ilyich, he and all his friends and his family are part of bourgeoisie, he distances himself from his family and focuses only on his work, living conformed to society in selfish attitudes, all of them consider social status to be extremely important and none of them have compassion on each other, it is all based only on self-interest. The author of the story, Leo Tolstoy, invented his own plot and structure of the text, he starts with the flashback of Ivan’s death. In the period when he is ill nobody treats him well, for him all the falsehood in which he lives is normal, because he always lived that way. But he receives help from Gerasim, a poor peasant and his servant, so Ivan realizes what it is like to have someone who cares for him, he understands that in fact all his friends and even his family have no compassion. Only at the end of his life does he realize that the most importants things and the ones that he should give the most value to is his family and his friends, he understands that this is his priority because the ambition for material things and selfishness makes him blind and leads him to death.

The Ivan’s wife, Praskovya Fyodorovna has two childrens with him, Lisa, who does not care with her father and Vladmir the younger. She has a selfish character and she does not care about her husband as Lisa. An excerpt from the ncbi site, “Ivan Ilych was to blame in the matter of his illness, and that the whole illness was another injury he was doing to his wife.” When he is sick, she says that he should only take some medicines. And even on his lasts days of life she is just interested with the money that she can get from the government due to her husband’s death, “she again began talking and brought out what was evidently her chief concern with him — namely, to question him as to how she could obtain a grant of money from the government on the occasion of her husband’s death. […] She knew how much could be got out of the government in consequence of her husband’s death, but wanted to find out whether she could not possibly extract something more.” Praskovya has fake tears, trying to demonstrate a air of victim “She again took out her handkerchief as if preparing to cry, but suddenly, as if mastering her feeling, she shook herself and began to speak calmly. ‘But there is something I want to talk to you about.’ Ivan´s wife is not a good person and the relationship between them exists only apparently to society.

Peter is not a good friend to Ivan Ilyich, their friendship is superficial and based on self-interest. He is happy with the Ivan’s death, because could be a job opportunity for brother-in-law, “’Now I must apply for my brother-in-law’s transfer from Kaluga,’ thought Peter Ivanovich. ‘My wife will be very glad, and then she won’t be able to say that I never do anything for her relations.’ ” Peter has to sacrifice his sleep to go to Ivan’s funeral, without showing any compassion to his so-called friend “ Peter Ivanovich sacrificed his usual nap, put on his evening clothes and drove to Ivan Ilyich’s house.” He also has a first thought after knowing the news of death “Thanks God it is not me.” They do not have a real friendship, Peter does not feel sad about ivan’s death and never cared for him.

Gerasim is an important character in the story, he is a poor peasant good-hearted who worked as Ivan’s servant and provided him his first comfort, as shows in the book, “Gerasim did it all easily, willingly, simply, and with a good nature that touched Ivan Ilyich.”, he helped Ivan to ease your pains without expecting anything in return. Ivan get him to hold his legs on his shoulders, because he discovered that in this way he did not feel pain in his legs. And he is the only character who does not lie about Ivan’s conditions, in contrast, Ivan’s wife and daughter, Lisa, do not care about Ivan’s condition and pain “She listened, but in the middle of his account his daughter came in with her hat on, ready to go out with her mother. She sat down reluctantly to listen to this tedious story, but could not stand it long, and her mother too did not hear him to the end.” With the demonstration of Gerasim’s real compassion with Ivan, he realizes that in his entire life, his friends and family are false and selfish with him, and that he spends his whole life focused on work and the way he appears in society.

Therefore, Tolstoy presents the superficiality that Ivan Ilyich lives, through the thought of the various characters present in the story. The main character is more focused on his social status and material possessions than on his family. About the superficial society, a thought in the Thought Catalog “People are defined by deeds and attitudes. We are defined by the words that we utter and not by how our voice sounds. Let us stop equating appearances with talent, with good personality, or with great minds. Let us stop our superficiality and give attention to what is essential and what is valuable.” Everyone around him is part of the bourgeoisie and lives a life without a purpose, until he meets Gerasim, the person who carries values such as empathy and emotional honesty and makes him see the life beyond the things he considers important.

Works Cited:

  • Papadimos, Thomas J, and Stanislaw Pa Stawicki. “The Death of Ivan Ilych: A Blueprint for Intervention at the End of Life.” International Journal of Critical Illness and Injury Science, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2011,
  • “We Truly Live In A Superficial World.” Thought Catalog, 6 Jan. 2015, 

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