Ivan Ilych Golovin
Ivan Ilych is an ambitious lawyer in 19th-century Russia who strives to live the kind of life that is acceptable to other upwardly mobile men of his class. When he falls ill, he must come to terms with the fact that he is dying. Before he dies, Ivan examines the conformist, artificial life he has led. Despite his intense suffering, he seeks truth within his soul as he lies dying.
Praskovya Fedorovna Golovina
Praskovya Fedorovna's life is defined by the outward appearance she must keep up to be accepted as a member of the Russian upper-middle class. She is shallow and concerned primarily with status and with acceptance by others of her class. She is obsessed with fashion and material things, as well as living an acceptable upward-striving bourgeois life.
Gerasim is a peasant who faces life without delusion or pretension. He is benevolent, kind, and strong. In contrast to the artificiality of Ivan Ilych, Gerasim is direct, authentic, and accepting of the harsh realities of life and death. He does not flinch from unpleasantness and comforts Ivan Ilych during his illness. It is natural for Gerasim to tend to Ivan's personal needs because, unlike Ivan Ilych, he embraces all aspects of life—including death.