Study Guide

The Death of Ivan Ilych Isolation

By Leo Tolstoy


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 from the normal world around him. For his friends, colleagues, and family members, life goes on just as before. Ivan is dismayed to discover that none of them seems to understand or care about what he's experiencing. He is left to face his fears and agonies alone, without comfort from anyone except a servant, the one person who pities him.

Questions About Isolation

  1. In what ways does Ivan's illness isolate him? From what is he being isolated?
  2. Why does Ivan find Gerasim comforting in a way no one else is? What does this have to do with Gerasim's character?
  3. How much of the isolation Ivan Ilych feels from his family during his illness is their fault? How much is his own fault? Can you find specific passages in which one or the other is clearly at fault?
  4. Does the story suggest that death will inevitably be isolating, or is Ivan's isolation particular to him?

Chew on This

Gerasim is the only character who can comfort Ivan because he can understand what Ivan is going through, and this is because Gerasim fully understands his own mortality.