Study Guide

The Death of Ivan Ilych Chapter 4

By Leo Tolstoy

Chapter 4

  • In the midst of this pleasant, easy life of his, every so often Ivan notices a bad taste in his mouth and a pain in his left side (right where he'd smashed into that window frame).
  • It seems like nothing at first, slowly but steadily, the pain gets worse.
  • Eventually it gets nasty and persistent enough to affect Ivan's mood: he starts to be grumpy on a regular basis.
  • Predictably, this does not help things with Praskovya Fedorovna; marital relations resume their regular status of total war.
  • After one colossal battle Ivan blames his temper on his health, so Praskovya Fedorovna insists that he go see a doctor.
  • The doctor's visit is dissatisfying.
  • All Ivan wants to know is how serious his condition is, but all the doctor wants to give him is some incomprehensible technical babble about whether it's a problem with his kidney or appendix. When Ivan asks him directly whether it's serious, he doesn't get a straight answer.
  • Ivan assumes this means his situation is not good, and on the way home falls into a very gloomy mood.
  • Everything he passes seems drab and depressing.
  • At home, Ivan tries to tell his wife about the doctor's visit, but is interrupted when Lisa comes in to take mummy out shopping.
  • Praskovya Fedorovna seems unconcerned with Ivan and sends Gerasim – the butler's assistant – to get his prescription filled.
  • Ivan begins taking the medicine and follows all of the doctor's instructions. He starts to obsess about his treatment, in fact.
  • But the symptoms don't match what the doctor predicted they would be, and the medicine doesn't make the pain any better.
  • Nevertheless, Ivan tries hard to convince himself he's recovering.
  • But whenever something – usually his wife – gets on his nerves, he blows a gasket and then feels as if he's lost all the progress he was making.
  • Ivan keeps seeing various doctors and they all give him different stories that usually make him feel worse about his condition than before.
  • So Ivan tries other things. Celebrity doctors. Homeopathy (i.e., natural medicine). He even momentarily considers using a "wonder-working icon."
  • Ivan goes back to following the doctors' orders, but they still don't seem to help.
  • As a result, he starts taking them a little more loosely.
  • It finally hits Ivan that something really serious is going on, probably the most important thing that's ever happened to him.
  • No one else seems to get this. Particularly not Praskovya Fedorovna, who is fond of telling Ivan it's just his own fault he's not getting better because he's not doing what the doctor tells him.
  • The people at work don't get it either, and their good moods and jokes bother him; Schwartz is particularly obnoxious.
  • And although no one says anything, some of them seem to look at him curiously, as if wondering when his post might go vacant…
  • Ivan keeps playing bridge, in the hopes of finding comfort in his favorite past time. But he is shocked and dismayed to discover that not even bridge is a consolation.
  • Nothing seems to matter any more. Things must be very serious indeed.
  • Day-to-day life starts to be a torture for Ivan. He feels completely alone, and afraid, and there's no promise things will get better.
  • When he falls asleep all he has to look forward to is another miserable day at the work place.
  • Or worse, a "sick day" at home, with nothing to do except sit alone with his pain and his fear (and deal with his wife).

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