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Themes

Little Words, Big Ideas

Mortality

It's no big surprise that death would be a central theme in a story called The Death of Ivan Ilych. The narrative centers on Ivan Ilych's struggle with a terminal illness. His struggle forces him t...

Happiness

In The Death of Ivan Ilych, Tolstoy uses death to explore the question of what makes for a happy life. Ivan Ilych, the main character, has lived his whole life with the aim of enjoying himself: win...

Lies and Deceit

Central to The Death of Ivan Ilych is the idea of what Tolstoy calls the false. With the exception of one character, everyone in the novella – including Ivan Ilych himself – is false, a...

Society and Class

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, pettine...

Suffering

If there's one constant in The Death of Ivan Ilych, you might say it's suffering. When Ivan Ilych falls ill with a strange disease, his body slowly starts going to pieces and physical pain becomes...

Religion

Religion doesn't come up often in The Death of Ivan Ilych, but it's always in the background. Tolstoy wrote the story after his own conversion (to a more radical form of Christianity) convinced him...

Technology and Modernization

Doctors get a pretty bad rap in The Death of Ivan Ilych. Throughout the story they appear as arrogant, unsympathetic, deceptive, and ultimately useless. And by the story's end, it's pretty clear th...

Isolation

Ivan Ilych's experience of illness and dying in The Death of Ivan Ilych is defined by a growing sense of isolation. His suffering and his fear of death have the effect of completely cutting him off...

Family

You might say that the family portrayed in The Death of Ivan Ilych is dysfunctional. The marriage of Ivan Ilych and Praskovya Fedorovna is characterized by mutual selfishness and a refusal of each...
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