The Death of Ivan Ilych
by Leo Tolstoy
The Death of Ivan Ilych Happiness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph). We used Alymer Maude's translation.
He looked at his partner Mikhail Mikhaylovich, who rapped the table with his strong hand and instead of snatching up the tricks pushed the cards courteously and indulgently towards Ivan Ilych that he might have the pleasure of gathering them up without the trouble of stretching out his hand for them. "Does he think I am too weak to stretch out my arm?" thought Ivan Ilych, and forgetting what he was doing he over-trumped his partner, missing the grand slam by three tricks. And what was most awful of all was that he saw how upset Mikhail Mikhaylovich was about it but did not himself care. And it was dreadful to realize why he did not care. (4.25)
Ivan no longer enjoys bridge. His constant pain prevents everything from being purely pleasant any more. But it's more than that. Ivan is starting to grow frightened that he'll die, and he's just beginning to realize what that means. Given all of this, winning a bridge game just no longer matters to him.
Gerasim with a firm light tread, his heavy boots emitting a pleasant smell of tar and fresh winter air, came in wearing a clean Hessian apron, the sleeves of his print shirt tucked up over his strong bare young arms; and refraining from looking at his sick master out of consideration for his feelings, and restraining the joy of life that beamed from his face, he went up to the commode. (7.7)
Gerasim represents a different kind of happiness that contrasts with the pleasantness Ivan and his friends fixate upon. Gerasim does not need life to be pleasant or fun; he just is happy to be alive. His face shows the "joy of life." That makes him capable of facing the uglier sides of life. But from where does Gerasim's happiness come? Why is he happy to be alive? Does it just make him happy to help people? Has he found happiness in religion?
And in imagination he began to recall the best moments of his pleasant life. But strange to say none of those best moments of his pleasant life now seemed at all what they had then seemed – none of them except the first recollections of childhood. There, in childhood, there had been something really pleasant with which it would be possible to live if it could return. But the child who had experienced that happiness existed no longer, it was like a reminiscence of somebody else. (9.21)
This is the point at which Ivan realizes that his whole life has been unhappy. Except for his childhood that is. What is it in his childhood that he finds so genuinely happy? And why is it that Ivan now recognizes that his life was unhappy before? Is it because his life can't provide him with any comfort now? You might wonder whether that means it was any the less happy then, when he was living it.