Study Guide

The Death of Ivan Ilych Mortality

By Leo Tolstoy


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 to confront the inevitability of his own death. Before becoming sick, Ivan Ilych had willfully ignored his mortality, just like everyone around him. Once he realizes that he is actually dying, however, he no longer can. And death changes everything. Ivan becomes isolated from he world around him. All that seemed to matter before stops mattering. Ivan's death forces him to painfully re-evaluate his own life, illustrating Tolstoy's belief that only death can reveal life's meaning.

Questions About Mortality

  1. What is the connection between death and life in The Death of Ivan Ilych? More specifically, how and why is it suggested that an understanding of death is important to an understanding of life?
  2. How does Ivan's relationship to his own death change over the course of the story? At what particular moments can you see this change taking place?
  3. What does death actually mean in The Death of Ivan Ilych? Are there different kinds of death? And what does Ivan mean when he says, "Death is finished"?

Chew on This

When Ivan Ilych says, "Death is finished," he is referring to the spiritual death that has characterized his whole life.

In The Death of Ivan Ilych, death is connected to life because it forces one to make an accounting of one's life before God.