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The Theme of Morality in Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Shawn's Morality

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The Theme of Morality in Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Shawn's Morality Essay

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Russian author Leo Tolstoy, is a story that explores the life and death of Ivan, a middle-aged man who has spent his years climbing the social ladder in a 19th century society. The story revolves around those who are closest to Ivan such as his wife, children, care-taker, and friends. While on the brink of death, Ivan questions his morals and the way that he had lived his life. On a similar note, Morality by Wallace Shawn explores how morality and morals have a common ground and how they can have an affect on a person’s judgement. It’s important for every person to interpret the world in a critical way and in the way in which we live. Ivan questions his inevitable death and wonders if he truly deserved suffering for all of the right things that he had done in his life.

The fear of death is a recurring theme in Ivan’s mind. Once being diagnosed with an illness, Ivan cannot stop thinking about the suffering and pain that he will have to endure.

“In the depths of his soul Ivan Ilyich knew that he was dying, but not only was he not accustomed towards it, he simply did not, he could not possibly understand it”. Ivan does recognize that his death is inevitable and that he does not understand why he deserves to die. Ivan has a bitter relationship towards his wife and children and that bitterness grows as his illness worsens. Gerasim, Ivan’s care-taker, is the only one who truly provides comfort to him. While Ivan is compassionate towards Gerasim, he questions whether he truly deserves death, regardless if it will happen. During Ivan’s last moments in the story, his attitude shifts from resentment to sympathy towards his family, as wonders how his family will continue to exist without his support.

Morality is described as the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are distinguished as proper and improper. A moral is a person’s standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do. Both of these ideas are discussed in Wallace Shawn’s essay, Morality. Wallace Shawn’s essay discusses his outlook on the world and his morals. “If we live from day to day without self-examination, we remain unaware of the dangers that we may pose to ourselves and the world. But if we look into the mirror, we might observe a rapacious face”. Shawn explains that if individuals don’t reflect on themselves, they become unaware of the misdemeanors that they might pose to others.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy and Morality by Wallace Shawn both have a persistent issue of human morality. Ivan reflects upon his outlook on his life and how he treated others and ponders whether his death is justified. 

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The Theme Of Morality In Tolstoy’s The Death Of Ivan Ilyich And Shawn’s Morality. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 28, 2023, from
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The Theme Of Morality In Tolstoy’s The Death Of Ivan Ilyich And Shawn’s Morality. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 Jan. 2023].
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