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The Pursuit of Happiness in The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Tartuffe

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Happiness is something that is pursued by all humans regardless of demographics, chances are if you are human you desire to be happy in some sort of way. The obsession with attaining and or maintaining happiness is as old as human survival itself, this is just an educated guess just look how far we have come since the stone ages. Humans have created many ways to be happy from simple pleasures to lavish lifestyles all in the pursuit of happiness and mental well-being. Happiness is a state of mind that is hard to measure and when we do appraise our success of attaining happiness in life results will vary from one individual to the other. Some people need so little to be happy while others are never satisfied and find it impossible to reach their desired level of happiness. The one common goal every human has is to achieve happiness some focus on the present while others work hard to hopefully be happy in a near future. The story by Tolstoy “The Death of Ivan Illych” describes the way Ivan measures happiness and why he failed at his lifetime goal. Elmire in Moliere’s “Tartuffe” represents a prime example of living happily even during a tricky situation. Happiness is not a product of favorable circumstances or always making the right decision but to have the ability to value what you have and make the best of it. In this text, I will discuss the contrast between these two characters and the role that a positive state of mind plays in the pursuit of happiness.

Ivan Ilych seems to have followed a guide for success and happiness set by the people whom he considered important and admired. “Neither as a boy nor as a man was he a toady, but from early youth was by nature attracted to people of high station as a fly is drawn to the light, assimilating their ways and views of life and establishing friendly relations with them” (Tolstoy 9). Ivan followed the roadmap that he views as most prosperous to achieve the goal of happiness and in doing so adopted other people perception of what success and happiness should look like. He established at a young age that he would have to work hard to become successful and live a happy and meaningful life. Ivan’s perception of making happiness a goal instead of a present and ongoing state of mind made him lose sight of the simple pleasures of childhood and other stress-free activities.

Elmire’s character in “Tartuffe” is a strong and elegant woman that displays great self-control and resilience when faced with life-changing decisions that would affect her happiness. Unlike Ivan, who is well educated and finished law school in the top of his class, not much is known of Elmires background. Above all Elmire demonstrated more elegance and class in clearing up the misunderstanding with Tartuffe. Her knowledge of people especially men and their weakness gave the confidence to outmaneuver Tartuffe and expose him to her husband. Not only was she witty and astute but made the best of the situation instead of allowing herself to be harassed by Tartuffe she took advantage of the situation to solve another problem that was affecting her present happiness. That problem was the marriage of Valere and Mariane. “Some might take offense at your confession, But I will show a definite discretion, and keep my husband in the dark about These sinful feelings for me that you spout. But I want something from you in return: There’s a promised marriage, you will learn, that supersedes my husband’s recent plan — The marriage of Valère and Mariane. This marriage you will openly support, without a single quibble, and, in short, Renounce the unjust power of a man Who’d give his own daughter, Mariane, to another when she’s promised to Valère. In return, my silence” (Moliere 38). Elmire demonstrated resiliency and the will to maintain her happy life at all cause. As the common phrase says, “when life gives you lemons make lemonade”. In contrast with Elmire’s perception of happiness, Ivan’s approach to marriage was a hasty decision and just another milestone of things successful and happy people should do. The reality of the commitment of marriage although had its benefits was at times unpleasant to handle. “Very soon, within a year of his wedding, Ivan Ilych had realized that marriage, though it may add some comforts to life, is, in fact, a very intricate and difficult affair towards which in order to perform one’s duty, that is, to lead a decorous life approved of by society, one must adopt a definite attitude just as towards one’s official duties” (Tolstoy 13).

Elmire exemplified a state of happiness as she always looked at the bright side of things. Her optimistic attitude helped her live a less stressful life. Elmire exhibited many habits of happy people and took pleasures in making people comfortable. Elmire was very mindful of what was better for her family and how to maintain the peace. In the last act, her last words are very fitting to her character “A happy ending! (Moliere 73).

Ivan idea of happiness was mainly in the satisfaction of being effective at work, good times with friends and the game of cards this passage tells us exactly how Ivan view and felt happiness “his masterly handling of cases, of which he was conscious — all this gave him pleasure and filled his life, together with chats with his colleagues, dinners, and bridge” (Tolstoy 18).

Happiness is not about joyful moments all the time is about making the best with the current situation. Elmire’s character more successful than Ivan Ilych in living a life of happiness and maintaining the one that they had already built. Elmire surpassed Ivan in the pursuit of happiness, although it was only a moment of her life compared to the life story of Ivan. She was able to show her spirit and attitude towards living a meaningful and happy life.

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