The Death of Ivan Ilych
by Leo Tolstoy
The Death of Ivan Ilych Lies and Deceit Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph). We used Alymer Maude's translation.
Schwartz, making an indefinite bow, stood still, evidently neither accepting nor declining this invitation. Praskovya Fedorovna recognizing Peter Ivanovich, sighed, went close up to him, took his hand, and said: "I know you were a true friend to Ivan Ilych..." and looked at him awaiting some suitable response. And Peter Ivanovich knew that, just as it had been the right thing to cross himself in that room, so what he had to do here was to press her hand, sigh, and say, "Believe me..." So he did all this and as he did it felt that the desired result had been achieved: that both he and she were touched. (1.29)
Ivan's widow is revealed to be just as false as everyone else. Both she and Peter Ivanovich just go through the motions of mourning. They do what it's appropriate to do in the situation because it's appropriate, rather than because they actually feel any sadness or sympathy for Ivan. That they've done what's appropriate makes them feel better about themselves.
What tormented Ivan Ilych most was the deception, the lie, which for some reason they all accepted, that he was not dying but was simply ill, and that he only need keep quiet and undergo a treatment and then something very good would result. He however knew that do what they would nothing would come of it, only still more agonizing suffering and death. This deception tortured him – their not wishing to admit what they all knew and what he knew, but wanting to lie to him concerning his terrible condition, and wishing and forcing him to participate in that lie. Those lies – lies enacted over him on the eve of his death and destined to degrade this awful, solemn act to the level of their visitings, their curtains, their sturgeon for dinner – were a terrible agony for Ivan Ilych. And strangely enough, many times when they were going through their antics over him he had been within a hairbreadth of calling out to them: "Stop lying! You know and I know that I am dying. Then at least stop lying about it!" But he had never had the spirit to do it. (7.33)
Ivan Ilych has become aware of the falsity of the world in which he lives. The willful blindness demonstrated by Ivan's friends and family in Chapter 1 prevents them from caring for Ivan; they refuse to see what he's experiencing. Ivan himself, though, is still such a part of that false world that he can't break through it and force the others to acknowledge that he's dying.
Only Gerasim recognized it and pitied him. And so Ivan Ilych felt at ease only with him. He felt comforted when Gerasim supported his legs (sometimes all night long) and refused to go to bed, saying: "Don't you worry, Ivan Ilych. I'll get sleep enough later on," or when he suddenly became familiar and exclaimed: "If you weren't sick it would be another matter, but as it is, why should I grudge a little trouble?" Gerasim alone did not lie; everything showed that he alone understood the facts of the case and did not consider it necessary to disguise them, but simply felt sorry for his emaciated and enfeebled master. Once when Ivan Ilych was sending him away he even said straight out: "We shall all of us die, so why should I grudge a little trouble?" – expressing the fact that he did not think his work burdensome, because he was doing it for a dying man and hoped someone would do the same for him when his time came. (7.33)
Gerasim is the only honest, authentic person in Ivan Ilych's world. He's the only one who can see that Ivan Ilych is dying. For the same reason, he's the only one who can comfort Ivan: he can understand how much Ivan is suffering from his fear of death, and thus can show him pity. Gerasim can be honest because he is open to his own eventual death in a way no other character is. He fully understands that he will die, as Ivan is dying now.