The judge Ivan Ilyich Golovin has spent his life in the pursuit of wealth and status, devoting himself obsessively to work and often neglecting his family in the process. When, after a small accident, he fails to make the expected recovery, it gradually becomes clear that he is soon to die. Ivan Ilyich then starts to question the futility and barrenness of his previous existence, realizing to his horror, as he grapples with the meaning of life and death, that he is totally alone. Included in this volume is another ...
The judge Ivan Ilyich Golovin has spent his life in the pursuit of wealth and status, devoting himself obsessively to work and often neglecting his family in the process. When, after a small accident, he fails to make the expected recovery, it gradually becomes clear that he is soon to die. Ivan Ilyich then starts to question the futility and barrenness of his previous existence, realizing to his horror, as he grapples with the meaning of life and death, that he is totally alone. Included in this volume is another celebrated novella by Tolstoy, The Devil, which addresses the conflicts between desire, social norms and personal conscience, providing at the same time a further exploration of human fear and obsession.
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Jun 19, 2009
The hard, unvarnished and bitter truth
The death of Ivan Ilyich is a tour de force in the realm of literature. It is a literary masterpiece. It is written by one of the greatest writers the world has witnessed namely Leo Tolstoy. It is a story written during the relentlessly worldly and materialistic age of Czarist Russia. The story is a flashback of the life of a worldly careerist judge who dies. It is the morbid story of a successful judge who is spiraled downwards into the inescapable jaws of death. The protagonist is hurled into the throes of death in a quick space of time. It shows how difficult it is to acknowledge death for a man who has never ever given the thought of death even a fleeting thought. The book documents the trauma faced by the judge when he comes to terms with his ill fate. Tolstoy is a well renowned authority on the subject of death. Through the agonies of Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy portrays death as a terrible irreversible phenomenon, which humans find it difficult to grapple with. The book is a thorough and horrific glimpse into the abyss that is death. The story depicts death also as an unknown mystery that is viewed as an unavoidable and macabre absolute. The story was the culmination of a nine-year spiritual crisis in Tolstoy?s life. It reflects Tolstoy?s obsession and fear of death and his inability to come to terms with it.
The judge is a worldly careerist who is fascinated with his work. His work keeps him engrossed and diverts his mind from distractions and problems in his life. He is endowed with arbitrary power. He has position, prestige and status in his society. He is bestowed with the trappings of power. He is very conscious of his status, power and position in society. He has inclinations toward materialistic and worldly pursuits. He socializes with people of high social stature and does not interact with people whom he deems to be below his status. He had strained relations with his wife but did not divorce her due to fear of negative social reactions. His life is divorced from spirituality. He never prayed to God and never attended churches. He led a life exactly opposite of a simple earthly existence.
Suddenly he falls ill and his life is turned upside down. He contracts a fatal disease and is terminally ill for the rest of his days. The disease and his realization of his imminent death brings out the worst in him. The fear and trepidation of death completely devastates him. He loses focus on work. His concentration is ripped apart. His personality is metamorphosed. He starts throwing temper tantrums at his wife and children. He hates the world around him. He thinks his wife and children and friends are not showing genuine affection, empathy and sympathy with him. His pride and ego is hurt. He feels people are lying to him and are deceiving him. He finds only a simple boy called Gerasim comforting and sympathizing with him. He feels only Gerasim understands him. He finally dies.
Through this story Tolstoy tries to express a few of his ideas. Tolstoy believes people fear death. Tolstoy feels people can never acknowledge their own death. He also feels people should lead spiritual lives and believe and pray in God. He feels leading simple, spiritual and austere lives would reduce the fear and suffering associated with death. He also feels people think of dying men as liabilities.
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