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The Death of Ivan Ilych

The Death of Ivan Ilych

by Leo Tolstoy

Happiness Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #1

Schwartz was waiting for him in the adjoining room with legs spread wide apart and both hands toying with his top-hat behind his back. The mere sight of that playful, well-groomed, and elegant figure refreshed Peter Ivanovich. He felt that Schwartz was above all these happenings and would not surrender to any depressing influences. His very look said that this incident of a church service for Ivan Ilych could not be a sufficient reason for infringing the order of the session – in other words, that it would certainly not prevent his unwrapping a new pack of cards and shuffling them that evening while a footman placed fresh candles on the table: in fact, that there was no reason for supposing that this incident would hinder their spending the evening agreeably. (1.28)

Peter Ivanovich has just seen Ivan's corpse and been scared by it; it's made him think just a little about his own death. He wants to laugh, play games, have fun, and not face his own mortality. Because Schwartz seems unaffected by the funeral – all he's thinking about is the bridge game – he perks Peter up. Both Peter and Schwartz's happiness depends upon refusing to think about a certain dimension of reality. They need to pretend that nothing unpleasant exists.

Quote #2

Ivan Ilych was le phénix de la famille as people said. He was neither as cold and formal as his elder brother nor as wild as the younger, but was a happy mean between them – an intelligent, polished, lively, and agreeable man. He had studied with his younger brother at the School of Law, but the latter had failed to complete the course and was expelled when he was in the fifth class. Ivan Ilych finished the course well. Even when he was at the School of Law he was just what he remained for the rest of his life: a capable, cheerful, good-natured, and sociable man, though strict in the fulfillment of what he considered to be his duty: and he considered his duty to be what was so considered by those in authority. Neither as a boy nor as a man was he a toady, but from early youth was by nature attracted to people of high station as a fly is drawn to the light, assimilating their ways and views of life and establishing friendly relations with them. (2.4)

Ivan is happy, in the sense of good-humored. He's usually in a good mood, he's friendly, he likes to laugh, and he finds it easy to enjoy himself. And because he's smart, sociable, and well-connected, he's set up from an early age for what will be, by society's standards, an enjoyable life. It's clear from the passage as well that Ivan buys into society's standards hook, line, and sinker.

Quote #3

But now, as an examining magistrate, Ivan Ilych felt that everyone without exception, even the most important and self-satisfied, was in his power, and that he need only write a few words on a sheet of paper with a certain heading, and this or that important, self- satisfied person would be brought before him in the role of an accused person or a witness, and if he did not choose to allow him to sit down, would have to stand before him and answer his questions. Ivan Ilych never abused his power; he tried on the contrary to soften its expression, but the consciousness of it and the possibility of softening its effect, supplied the chief interest and attraction of his office. (2.11)

What are the main things that make the adult Ivan happy? He certainly enjoys work, and as this passage tells us, he primarily enjoys it because he likes feeling powerful and worth while. Moving up the career ladder and acquiring more power gives Ivan something to do that feels important, and gives him a sense of accomplishment.

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