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ENGL 1102 Study Guide and Notes

Tolstoy: The Death of Ivan Ilych


Talking points and vocabulary:
Marxist literary criticism The best critical approach for this novella is actually a combination of Marxism through a Christian lens (yes that IS an oxymoron, but dont worry about). Tolstoy believed that Christ commanded his followers to live in poverty. A Marxist critic will notice immediately the contrast between the wealthy but miserable Ivan Ilych and the poor but joyful Gerasim. Note Tolstoys physical description of Gerasim as bright, filled with joy, clean, and fresh. Gerasim is all of these things despite the fact that his job is to handle filth (cleaning IIs commode, toting coal, and chopping wood). materialism Ivan Ilych is a materialist he loves and worships money. His primary goal in life is to make more money and to have nice things. As result of his dedication to the pursuit of wealth, he neglects his family and forms friendships with like-minded people. Note that his friends first concern when they learn of his death is about who will get promoted next. the inner life When II reaches adulthood, he forgets his childhood and the sense of the miraculous that he once had and loses his conscience (his inner voice). IIs focus on externals (money, appearances, social standing) leads him to reject all forms of self-reflection and to give up his inner life. redemption Tolstoy achieves a happy ending through the redemption of his anti-hero. Ivan finds peace in death because he acknowledges that his life was not what it should have been and comes to feel compassion for others. Because Christ conquered sin and death on the cross and because Ivan realized that before his death, he is no longer afraid of dying. propriety/social correctness as a motif A motif is a word, phrase, or image with symbolic significance which is related throughout a text or movie. see materialism family relationships There really isnt any in this story, at least not any good ones. Quiz 1. Why does Ivan get married? What words would best describe his married life? A: Though Ivan Ilych professes to love her, he marries Praskovya Fdorovna because it was the socially correct thing to do. The married life can best be described as a business arrangement. There is no love between them in fact is clear that they hate each other: PF wishes II were dead, and II hates PF so much that he cannot stand to be touched by her. 2. How does Ivan hurt himself? Do you think this is of any significance?

A: While hanging drapes, he falls off of a ladder and bruises his side. Later that same spot becomes inflamed and he suffers from acute and gnawing pain. His exact diagnosis is unknown and unknowable (we as readers simply dont have enough information to answer that question). His diagnosis is not nearly as important as his prognosis he is dying. The significance of the circumstances surrounding his injury is that he was mortally wounded while attempting to keep up appearances. 3. What does Ivan want most of all from his family and from others? A: pity 4. What is the Caius syllogism? A: Caius is a man, men are mortal, ergo Caius is mortal. This point is one which II denies applies to him. He is, at this point in the story, still struggling with the realization that he is mortal (i.e. subject to death), and he is afraid of death. 5. How does Gerasim treat Ivan? What does this treatment say about Gerasims moral character in comparison to Praskovya Fdorovna and Ivans children and friends? A: Gerasim treats Ivan as he would like to be treated do unto others as you would have them do unto you is Gerasims motto. Gerasim stands in stark contrast to IIs friends and family because he is the only who shows Ivan compassion and love. Gerasim is a model of Christian charity. THE END Despite the fact that Ivan Ilych dies at the end of the story, the ending is nevertheless quite positive. Redemption through Christ changes the tone from bleak to hopeful. Because Ivan Ilych finally feels love and compassion for others (his wife and children) and repents in his heart, he is able to find peace.