In The Death of Ivan Ilych, Tolstoy mounts an attack on the Russian middle class. Almost all of the characters in the novella belong to this class, and he uses them to illustrate the greed, pettiness, artificiality, selfishness, and uselessness he sees in their way of life. Ivan Ilych himself – that "most simple and ordinary" man with the "most terrible" life – is the embodiment of all of these things (2.1). Tolstoy fills the story with details to bring the middle-class world to life, from the furniture in Ivan's house to the proper manners with which everyone is so concerned. It is telling that the only genuine character in the novella is a peasant.
The middle class in The Death of Ivan Ilych is principally defined by its ordinariness and uniformity, reflecting Tolstoy's own aristocratic pretensions.
The propriety of the middle class in The Death of Ivan Ilych is entirely defined by doing what everybody else does, and seems to be wholly arbitrary from a moral point of view.