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Themes

You might say that the family portrayed in The Death of Ivan Ilych is dysfunctional. The marriage of Ivan Ilych and Praskovya Fedorovna is characterized by mutual selfishness and a refusal of each to sympathize with the other. Ivan's family life is his principal source of unhappiness, and he usually deals with any unpleasantness by retreating from it. When he becomes ill, he receives little sympathy from Praskovya Fedorovna or from his daughter, who takes after her mother. Only Ivan's young son seems to show him any care. It's an open question whether Ivan's family is as loveless as it seems or not. How much of the dying Ivan's growing alienation from his family is caused by them, and how much is caused by his own dislike of them?

Questions About Family

  1. What starts the family troubles of the Golovins? Is one person clearly responsible? Why do you think so?
  2. Do you think Praskovya Fedorovna has any real love for Ivan Ilych? What signs can you find that she does or doesn't? How might you reconcile conflicting answers?
  3. Why is Vasya the only family member who pities Ivan Ilych? Or is he the only one?
  4. Do you think Ivan could have grown closer to his family during his illness if he'd acted differently? Or was it a lost cause from the beginning?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Ivan Ilych is responsible for his family's troubles, because he has always refused to show any sympathy to his wife and children.

Praskovya Fedorovna has no love for her husband, and by the time he dies she is only interested in his money.

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