The Death of Ivan Ilych
by Leo Tolstoy
The Death of Ivan Ilych Mortality Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph). We used Alymer Maude's translation.
Besides considerations as to the possible transfers and promotions likely to result from Ivan Ilych's death, the mere fact of the death of a near acquaintance aroused, as usual, in all who heard of it the complacent feeling that, "it is he who is dead and not I." (1.17)
The reaction to Ivan's death on the part of his friends and acquaintances is completely superficial. They just don't get that they will in fact die too. It's impossible for any one of them to understand what dying really means; they can't envision themselves as dying one day. Instead, they take a perverse sort of glee in knowing that someone else died but life goes on for them. Because they don't understand their own deaths, they also can't really sympathize with Ivan. None of Ivan's friends can understand how he experienced the process of dying. Tolstoy will contrast their attitude towards death as something others do with Ivan's experience of confronting his own death.
The dead man lay, as dead men always lie, in a specially heavy way, his rigid limbs sunk in the soft cushions of the coffin, with the head forever bowed on the pillow. His yellow waxen brow with bald patches over his sunken temples was thrust up in the way peculiar to the dead, the protruding nose seeming to press on the upper lip. He was much changed and grown even thinner since Peter Ivanovich had last seen him, but, as is always the case with the dead, his face was handsomer and above all more dignified than when he was alive. The expression on the face said that what was necessary had been accomplished, and accomplished rightly. Besides this there was in that expression a reproach and a warning to the living. This warning seemed to Peter Ivanovich out of place, or at least not applicable to him. He felt a certain discomfort and so he hurriedly crossed himself once more and turned and went out of the door – too hurriedly and too regardless of propriety, as he himself was aware. (1.27)
Earlier, when he first heard the news, Peter Ivanovich seemed untroubled by Ivan's death. Now, confronted with the actual corpse of someone he knew well (and someone his own age) it's much harder for him not to feel a little bit of fear. He's not used to coping with that feeling, which is why he leaves as soon as he starts to feel it. The description of Ivan's expression is also notable. It's the first hint that Ivan will actually find some kind of redemption or fulfillment in death, and it offers a contrast to Peter Ivanovich's fearful state of mind.
From the time of his visit to the doctor, Ivan Ilych's chief occupation was the exact fulfillment of the doctor's instructions regarding hygiene and the taking of medicine, and the observation of his pain and his excretions. His chief interest came to be people's ailments and people's health. When sickness, deaths, or recoveries were mentioned in his presence, especially when the illness resembled his own, he listened with agitation which he tried to hide, asked questions, and applied what he heard to his own case. (4.15)
Ivan is by no means sure he's going to die at this point, but death is definitely starting to appear as a possibility. He's afraid of it, in a way he hasn't been afraid before. Now he can also relate to all of the other people who are ill, dying, or dead in a new way, because death no longer seems like something only other people do. It's also noticeable how quickly Ivan's fear of death takes over everything else in his life. His possible death is the most important thing in his life now.