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Leo Tolstoy’s Use of Rhetoric in The Death of Ivan Ilyich

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Most literature authors involve different literary styles in their works, in a bid to leave a mark to the readers. Different literary methods are applicable. One of these literary styles is Rhetoric. Leo Tolstoy was famous for using this literary style, writing The “Death of Ivan Ilyich.” This is one of Tolstoy’s famous works, his literary has led to literature analysts to scrutinize it from different angles. In “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” Tolstoy’s rhetoric art plays a crucial role in the explanation of the gradual process of transformation of human beings. This paper will analyze Tolstoy’s presentation of “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” and the intended author’s impact on his audiences.

The social situation the author responds to in his piece “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” is the middle class life in the 19th century Russia. The author also attempts to draw the audience into the issue of “western civilization” and its effects on the general population. The middle class life Tolstoy draws was prevalent in the 19th century Russia, where there was a social stratum defined the position of the population in society. Tolstoy in his work intends to expose how modern industrialization was turning individuals in the social class as its means of production. To the middle class like Ivan, the entitlement and classification meant that when working as a judge in St. Petersburg, life seems well. Tolstoy successfully creates the image that Ivan thought, “he made it in life.” It was for this reason that when Ivan fell and became ill, he began to remember his social life. According to Tolstoy, “there also the further back he looked the more life there had been.” There had been more of what was good in life and more of life itself” (Tolstoy). Tolstoy in “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” responds to the issue of human existence during the 19th century Russia when as it was in the case of Ivan, his colleagues and family abandoned him in the hour of need. The society at that time concentrated much on the issue of materialism, with little care for humanity. In the hour of tribulation as it was in the case of Ivan, what was evident was that one got help from an unknown individual. A time of tribulations is when the spirituality level of a person rises, and they begin to see life differently. According to Tolstoy, Ivan thought, “Why hast Thou done all this? Why hast Thou brought me here? Why, why dost Thou torment me so terribly?”. The author in the above quote shows how human beings are socially inclined to spiritual refuge in any event they have issues that are beyond their control. The author in the above situations responds to the social aspects of class and religion.


The primary purpose of the piece “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” was for the author to elaborate on the life of human beings and their transformation. Tolstoy wanted the audience to understand the issue of human existence. The main idea is for the audience to understand that what they think is important is life might turn out to be worthless. For instance, in the case of Ivan Ilyich, he thought that the most important thing was his career as a judge and the friends he had in those days. However, later, his main idea about life was having good health.

Furthermore, the main purpose of the work was Tolstoy to elaborate on the importance of spirituality in one’s life. In deathbed, most of the thoughts of Ivan Ilyich revolve around spirituality. This fact was also evident with Gerasim who believed that every happening is because of God’s will. For instance, asked about the death of Ivan Ilyich by Peter Ivanovich, his reply was, “It’s God will. We shall all come to it someday”. Spirituality and the understanding of human existence is the main intention by Tolstoy in “The death of Ivan Ilyich.”

Intended audience

The intended audience by Tolstoy is the middle-class group. This assertion is because the author explains the transformation of the life of Ivan Ilyich from being a judge (a high-status job even in the contemporary world) to refusing medical medicine, then isolation and lastly death. The above life transformation is shared among the middle-class globally that believe their jobs will save them. In most cases, they have only friends that are happy when things are going well like in the case of Ivan.

Moreover, one of the primary reasons why most people seek religious solace is because of the problems that they face in the world. Notably, the problem is an economic one. Tolstoy targets the middle-class audience since they have minimal religious connections until they are in a big life problem like having an incurable illness. The intended audience is also poor since Tolstoy wants them to derive the meaning of life. Despite the claims by Ivan Ilyich that life is a series of sufferings, Tolstoy intends to make the peasant audience to think about living more intensely.

Minor claim

In his work, Tolstoy attempts to link death as the only way a person can evade the sufferings they are currently facing. Ivan Ilyich thought, “And death…where is it?” In this statement, Tolstoy could be claiming that death is the only relief to sufferings of life.

Rhetoric strategies

The rhetoric strategies present in “The death of Ivan Ilyich” include the speaker’s character and the mastery of the terminologies he uses. Tolstoy succeeds in convincing the audience owing to the fact that they can relate the story to his tribulations. In this case, readers acquire knowledge with a sense of reality rather than fiction. The narration of the case of Ivan with some sense of experience is what could endear the audience into believing in such happening to individuals in the world. In continuation, the other approach is the mastery of the terminology of the field. This rhetoric approach means that any person reading the piece would have a more natural understanding of the message the author wants to pass to them.


The author has been successful in communicating his ideas to the reader as at the end of the story, as they can relate to the events that ensued before the death of Ivan. The author successfully patches all the essential pieces in the literary works, with this meaning that readers were not left in suspense. In the process, any audience can understand the message Tolstoy is putting across. 

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Leo Tolstoy’s Use Of Rhetoric In The Death Of Ivan Ilyich. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from
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