Study Guide

The Death of Ivan Ilych Religion

By Leo Tolstoy


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 that only a religious outlook could provide meaning to life. Ivan Ilych's life seems to illustrate this belief. Though Ivan Ilych is not a religious man for most of his life, as he nears death he begins to think more and more about judgment and demands from God a reason for his suffering. Many read Ivan's transformative last moments as a conversion experience or an encounter with God. On the other hand, Tolstoy's few depictions of organized religion in the story can hardly be called flattering. (Check out "What's Up with the Ending?" for more of our thoughts on Ivan's last moments.)

Questions About Religion

  1. Where does religion appear in the story? Do any of the characters show signs of being religious? What are the signs?
  2. Why does Ivan's act of communion make him think of his appendix?
  3. What is Ivan's relationship to religion? Does it change throughout the course of the story?
  4. What's the deal with the ending? Is God acting on Ivan Ilych?
  5. Is Ivan responsible for his own realization, or is God responsible for it?

Chew on This

Ivan's relationship to religion appears to come out of nowhere. He shifts abruptly from believing his suffering has no purpose to believing it is a punishment from God.

God is wholly responsible for Ivan's transformation at the end of The Death of Ivan Ilych. Ivan has no role in the process.

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