The Death of Ivan Ilych | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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The Death of Ivan Ilych | Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

This short chapter emphasizes both the short time span it covers and Ivan Ilych's headlong rush toward death. Two weeks have gone by since the events in Chapter 10. Fedor Petrovich visits to propose marriage to Ivan's daughter, Lisa. Praskovya comes into Ivan's room to tell him the good news, but Ivan's condition has deteriorated. He's lying on his back, staring ahead of him. Ivan Ilych looks at her with "great animosity," saying, "For Christ's sake let me die in peace." When Lisa comes into the room, Ivan looks at her with the same hostility. Lisa asks about his health, and Ivan says "he would soon free them all" of his clearly unwelcome presence. The women sit for a few minutes in silence and then leave.

Lisa complains to her mother that although it's a shame her father is sick, "it's not our fault," so they shouldn't be inconvenienced by him. A while later the doctor comes, but Ivan makes the medical man admit that there's nothing he can do for him. Ivan asks him to "let me be." The doctor goes into the drawing room. He tells Praskovya how serious Ivan's case is and that the only thing that can now be done is to give him opium to ease his pain.

Ivan is certainly in terrible physical pain, but it is his "mental sufferings which were his chief torture." His psychological torment arises when, at night, he sees the good-natured Gerasim asleep (supposedly with Ivan Ilych's legs on his shoulders). The sight of the simple, kind Gerasim forces Ivan Ilych to question whether the life he's lived has been wrong in some way.

Ivan Ilych considers more seriously than ever before the previously impossible notion that he has not lived as he should have done. He recalls the times he suppressed his own views that contravened "what was considered good by most people." Perhaps he should have followed his instinct to resist. The more he thinks about it, the more he sees his behavior and his life as false. Ivan worries about dying with all these lifelong regrets on his conscience.

Ivan Ilych begins to review his entire life from this new perspective (that his life has been false). The next day he watches how his wife, family, and doctor behave toward him. He recognizes that they exemplify the artificiality and falseness of the life he's led. He comes to the awful realization that his life has been "a terrible and huge deception." This awareness increases his physical suffering tenfold.

At some point Ivan wakes from a period of opium-induced unconsciousness. His wife comes into his room and asks him to take communion, and Ivan Ilych agrees. She sends for the priest. The priest hears Ivan Ilych's deathbed confession, which reveals all of Ivan's doubts. Confession seems to alleviate some of Ivan's pain. For a while, Ivan once again feels a spark of hope that his body may heal and he may live. Ivan is deeply moved when he receives the sacrament from the priest, though the story has not said before that he is religious.

After the priest leaves, Praskovya comes into Ivan's room. Everything about her reminds Ivan once again how false his life has been. As this revulsion for her and his own life washes over him, Ivan's dreadful pain returns. The usual pain is accompanied by new torment: "a grinding shooting pain and a feeling of suffocation." Ivan yells at her to "go away and leave me alone."

Analysis

The appearance and behavior of Ivan Ilych's family and doctor seem to indicate that they are in denial about the seriousness of his condition. Lisa says, "I am sorry for papa, but why should we be tortured." She is the voice of middle-class propriety for which any unpleasantness is to be avoided or denied. After Ivan Ilych has confessed to the priest, Praskovya comes into his room and asks, "You feel better, don't you?" to which Ivan replies, "Yes." But this brief interchange opens Ivan's eyes even more to the deception she represents and to the falsity of his life.

This brief chapter inches Ivan Ilych a bit closer to acceptance of his dying and, more crucially, of the possibility, even certainty, that the life he's lived has been artificial and inauthentic. He comes as close as he's ever been to accepting "that he had not spent his life as he should have done." Ivan berates himself for those times when "his scarcely perceptible attempts to struggle against what was considered good by the most highly placed people, those scarcely noticeable impulses which he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing, and all the rest false." Clearly, Ivan had had only a tenuous connection to his authentic inner self, for it is the authentic self that made him aware that he could act authentically and not just properly. Yet Ivan now reproaches himself for being too fearful and weak to oppose propriety and act according to his inner truth. Ivan "tried to defend all those things (capitulations) to himself and suddenly felt the weakness of what he was defending (propriety). There was nothing to defend." Ivan finally sees a life of decorum and propriety for the empty, soulless shell it really is.

Now that Ivan has realized this he begins to be plagued by regret, which is reinforced when he reviews his life. He understands "that it was not real at all, but a terrible and huge deception which had hidden both life and death." Ivan Ilych has made a huge advance in his approach to death. He finally accepts that his life has been inauthentic and ruled by artificial propriety. It remains to be seen in the final chapter how this realization affects his dying.

Though he may not be consciously aware of it, his physical suffering is shown to be intertwined with his psychological or spiritual suffering. After Ivan Ilych clearly sees how false and inauthentic his life has been, "his consciousness (of his life's artificiality) intensified his physical torment tenfold." Living a life that was "a terrible and huge deception which had hidden both life and death" from him makes Ivan's physical condition much worse. Spiritual inauthenticity increases Ivan's physical torment. When the priest hears Ivan's confession, Ivan's inner soul is eased, and this is connected to his feeling somewhat better physically. However, when his pain abates somewhat and he begins to hope "to live. I want to live!" he again slides toward greater suffering. He suffers because he is, for a moment, not accepting the reality of his condition, which his inner self acknowledges.

When Ivan tells his wife that "yes" he's feeling better, he immediately succumbs to greater pain than before. Praskovya represents not only denial of death but everything about Ivan's life that has been a "falsehood and deception." His inner voice, or soul, rejects her and all she stands for. Here, his hatred for his wife and her denial of the truth cause him even more terrible suffering. The inauthentic life that Praskovya embodies seems to cause Ivan's soul to rebel against the artificial life both she and he have led. That inner spiritual rebellion is manifested by more intense physical pain. Ivan Ilych is beginning to recognize how his spiritual suffering arose from his inauthentic life. He may also be aware that his spiritual suffering is intensifying his physical suffering. In the last chapter, the reader will come to see how he reconciles this connection and how it affects his death.

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