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The Death of Ivan Ilych | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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The Death of Ivan Ilych | Quotes


[Death] had happened to Ivan Ilych ... it should not and could not happen to him.

Peter Ivanovich, Chapter 1

Peter Ivanovich is at Ivan Ilych's funeral. Here, he is distancing himself from death, saying that it might happen to others such as Ivan Ilych, but it could never happen to him. Peter Ivanovich's thoughts represent the denial that people of his class have when it comes to facing death. They dissociate themselves from it.


Ivan's life had been most simple, most ordinary and therefore most terrible.

Narrator, Chapter 2

This famous quote redefines the words "simple" and "ordinary." They do not mean plain and average. Instead, "simple" and "ordinary" refer to Ivan Ilych's life of extreme conformity and perhaps to the lives of all conformists. They refer to his internalization of all the values, thoughts, and mores of the prevailing upper-class culture. His life is "terrible" because it is not his. It is false and inauthentic because everything about it is based on the propriety and decorum that enslaves him.


The marriage was considered the right thing by the most highly placed of his associates.

Narrator, Chapter 2

Ivan Ilych marries because that is considered the right, or proper, thing to do among the upper class he wishes to be part of. He clearly does not marry for love, but for propriety, in order to conform to others' notions of how life should be lived.


[Ivan's house had] all the things people of a certain class have in order to resemble other people of that class.

Narrator, Chapter 3

This quote reveals the conformity that rules Ivan Ilych's life. There is nothing in his house that is personal to him. Everything he has he owns because it is just like the things others in the upper classes also own. Ivan Ilych doesn't even know what he likes or doesn't like. He accepts others' ideas of what is proper and decorous to have in one's home, and that is what he puts in his home.


Ivan concluded that things were bad ... [but] for everybody else it was a matter of indifference.

Narrator, Chapter 4

Ivan Ilych is becoming increasingly ill from the knock on his hip and the pain it's causing him. He realizes that he's becoming seriously ill. Yet for others—particularly his family and colleagues—his pain and his illness are an inconvenience. His illness interferes with their pursuit of pleasure, so they ignore it. His illness is also viewed as rather improper, so others remain studiously indifferent to it (and his pain).


It seemed ridiculous that in such circumstances he should be pleased to make a grand slam.

Narrator, Chapter 4

Ivan Ilych is quite ill and often in great pain. Because he can no longer tolerate his wife's presence, he pursues his old pleasures. Here, Ivan is playing bridge with some of his acquaintances. During the game he deliberately sabotages a "grand slam" that would win the game. He does that because he suddenly realizes how trivial winning a card game is for a man who is so sick and who is likely dying. This is one of Ivan Ilych's first "rebellions" against the customs and proprieties of upper-class life that had so far ruled his.


There was light and now there is darkness. I was here and now I'm going there! Where?

Ivan Ilych Golovin, Chapter 5

Ivan Ilych is thinking about his life, how it once seemed filled with light—or at least the proper pastimes deemed acceptable by his cohorts. Now, however, he is dying, and he feels surrounded by darkness. He is still here in life, but he knows he's going there (into death). He wonders what death is like and where the dead will go.


All that had formerly ... hidden ... his consciousness of death no longer had that effect.

Narrator, Chapter 6

The propriety of upper-class life demands that one hide consciousness of death—and of anything else that is unpleasant or indecorous. Before his illness, Ivan Ilych had hidden his awareness of death as well as anybody of that class. Now he is finally having to face death, to try to accept it. The hold propriety (and denial) had on him weakens as his illness worsens. He can no longer use it to ignore or deny his impending death.


[He'd be] alone with It ... nothing could be done with It except to look at it and shudder.

Narrator, Chapter 6

Ivan Ilych is essentially ignored and abandoned by his family, all of whom are in denial about his unpleasant death. Ivan Ilych is isolated in his pain and must face his death alone. Yet looking at his death directly fills Ivan Ilych with terror and fear. Contemplating his death makes him shudder as he lies alone on the sofa in his room.


We shall all of us die, so why should I grudge a little trouble?

Gerasim, Chapter 7

Gerasim is of the peasant class by birth, a simple man who has a deep understanding and acceptance of death as a part of life. He is glad to help the increasingly helpless Ivan Ilych as his illness progresses. Gerasim willingly assists with the most intimate functions of his body. For Gerasim, who is at ease with the body and with its inevitable demise, it's not "trouble" to help a dying man. Gerasim accepts that everyone dies, so being with Ivan Ilych as he faces death is no hardship—and not improper—for him.


When they had gone ... Ivan Ilych ... felt better; the falsity had gone with them.

Narrator, Chapter 8

As Ivan Ilych becomes more accepting of his impending death, he cannot abide the falsity and lies his family tells him. They perpetuate the lie that another doctor or another medicine may cure him. Ivan Ilych knows better. He comes to the point where he can't stand being around his family because they treat him with such deception. In this quote, Ivan Ilych is relieved when his family leaves his room because they take their lies and falseness with them. He can contemplate his death truthfully and, in a way, in peace.


Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done ... but I did everything properly.

Ivan Ilych Golovin, Chapter 9

As he nears death, Ivan Ilych starts to wonder if perhaps he did not live an authentic life. Yet at this point, whenever he thinks that might be true, he rejects the idea. He still cannot accept that a life in which he did everything properly (following upper-class propriety and expectations) could be the wrong kind of life. Whenever he has doubts about his life, he reminds himself that a life of propriety must be the one he "ought to have lived."


He looked at Gerasim and thought: "What if my whole life has been wrong?"

Ivan Ilych Golovin, Chapter 11

Gerasim lives a simple life in the true sense of that word. He does not deny death but accepts it. Ivan Ilych begins to understand the wisdom in Gerasim's simple life. His recognition of Gerasim's simple wisdom and acceptance makes him think that he should have lived a life like Gerasim's. Maybe, Ivan Ilych thinks, the life he did live was "wrong" because it was so false and based so much on denial of the realities of life.


There wasn't fear because there wasn't death ... In place of death there was light.

Ivan Ilych Golovin, Chapter 12

When Ivan Ilych dies, he moves into and is reborn in a joyous light. He loses all his fear of death because once he's in the light he understands that there is no such thing as death. Instead, there is the light of the soul that leads to renewal and rebirth. Death, as humans conceive of it, does not exist, according to Leo Tolstoy's beliefs.

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