The Truth in The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

Literature is not only a source of inspiration and a way to convey thoughts through text. It is also a valuable source of invaluable knowledge that can help a person better understand the world and people around them. Thus, the study of literary works by various authors is critical for the self-development of the individual. This work aims to study the work of the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy “The Death of Ivan Ilych.” Tolstoy, in this story, tries to communicate to the reader the value of such a thing as truth and how people can deceive themselves. He conveys this message and meaning through the characters of the novel, who do not seem to have their own understanding of the truth.

Before examining the main problem of this work, it is necessary to consider what it is its about. “The Death of Ivan Ilych” is one of the most outstanding works of the Russian author and is written very skillfully. Its primary feature is that the narrative begins with the death of the main protagonist Ivan Ilych. Only after that reader is returned to a few months ago when the story of an extraordinary and not outstanding man began. He led an average lifestyle of a man of that time, was married, and had a reasonably respectable job where he was waiting for a promotion. However, he fell ill after a while with a disease that significantly tormented him.

Unknown to the protagonist, the disease gives him physical discomfort, which is reflected in his behavior. Ilych began to get annoyed by everything, especially the people around him. He still decides to see a specialist, but this will not be crowned with success. The man refuses to hear about his illness and leaves the medical facility. This behavior played against him, and soon he died without knowing what the cause of his death was.

Tolstoy constantly reminds the reader that the protagonist’s life is obscenely ordinary. It quickly identifies the stages that are considered the norm, which goes in the sequence of study, work, recreation with friends and family, and building a career. This ordinariness even applies to his death, where the author describes, “the dead man lay, as dead men always lie, in a specially heavy way, his rigid limbs sunk in the soft cushions of the coffin, with the head forever bowed on the pillow” (Tolstoy 4). With this technique, the writer makes the reader think about the fact that someday such things can happen to everyone. Death is inevitable, and one must understand it and make the most of his opportunities.

Therefore, the truth problem in this story manifests in the fact that Ivan Ilych has been living in deception all his life. First of all, this is self-deception, which ultimately absorbs the protagonist. An example of this is that only on his deathbed does a man realize that he has lived the wrong life. Those values, concepts, and opinions to which Ilych adhered were not truthful, those that he would really support. He followed the usual order of life, which was the standard of time, study, work, and family. Jahanbani emphasizes that “in searching for the truth in his life, he also encounters the hard-favored truth and everything beside it has been all deceptions, all lies” (43). It is before death that the protagonist makes an attempt to realize the true meaning of life.

The problem of attitude and the concept of truth also concern the environment of the main protagonist. All around, his people are deceitful and envious and never really behave. Hence, it would seem the closest person to a man and his wife did not treat him sincerely. This proves her behavior at her husband’s funeral, where she did not experience the slightest moment of grief for the deceased. All the widow thinks about is how to get payment for the death of her spouse faster. Moreover, the scholar Fratto supports this point of view by stating that even “his wife worries that without her husband’s income, she will not be able to enjoy the same lifestyle” (58). Henceforth, Tolstoy proves that even the closest and dearest people can betray a person.

Another example is the colleagues of Ivan Ilych, who, like his wife, have never treated him truthfully and honestly. This duplicity is frustrating, as it makes readers think about the complexity of human relationships. Despite superficially good relations with colleagues, no one wanted to go to Ilych’s funeral. The only driving force that influenced the employees was their concern for other people’s opinions. The author emphasizes that “his so-called friends could not help thinking also that they would now have to fulfill the very tiresome demands of propriety by attending the funeral service and paying a visit of condolence to the widow” (Tolstoy 2). All that Ilych’s colleagues really cared about was not the tragic situation that happened to him but the fact that an excellent promising place was vacated after the man. The scholar Stellino agrees when he writes that “it most vividly illustrates this pervasive decay by recounting not the literal death of a man from illness but the symbolic death … the victims of corporate greed.” (123). Thus, Tolstoy causes the reader a sincere feeling of pity for the main protagonist, who all the people around him deceived. The rotten society suppressed the man and did not allow him to advance higher since he lived in untruth almost all his life. Ilych denied sincerity both to himself and to other people.

In conclusion, this scientific work considered the problem of truth and deception in the work of the outstanding Russian writer Leo Tolstoy called “The Death of Ivan Ilych.” An artfully constructed narrative tells about the death of an ordinary man and how rotten the behavior and attitude of the people around him were. Hence, just before the protagonist dies, he realizes that he lived the wrong life and deceives himself that it was necessary to live this way. In addition, people around him deceived him by expressing a good attitude toward him. In fact, they did not even want to go to a colleague’s funeral and thought only about promotion. Ilych’s wife was also concerned only with the material component, which also shows her insincerity. Therefore, Tolstoy, with the help of the main message about the importance of truth, tries to open the eyes of readers. The author shows how different people’s opinions about things can be in real life and how important and valuable it is to be truthful with oneself.

Works Cited

Fratto, Elena. “Chapter Two. End of Story: Temporality and the Prospect of the Ending in Ivan Ilych, Anna Karenina, and (Potential) Cancer Patients.” Medical Storyworlds, 2021, pp. 45-88.

Jahanbani, Marzieh. “The Denseness is the Absurd: The Life in the Death of Ivan Ilych.” International Journal of Linguistics and Literature, vol. 9, no. 2, 2020, pp. 39-46.

Stellino, Paolo. “Can Truth Be Found in the Wild?.” Pearl Jam and Philosophy, 2021, p. 123.

Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilych. Good Press, 2021.

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