Friday, 8 July 2011

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (5/5)


The back says: By the time he dies, Ivan Ilyich has come to understand the worthlessness of his life. Paradoxically, this elevates him above the common man, who avoids the reality of death and the effort it takes to make life worthwhile. In Tolstoy's own words, "Ivan Ilyich's life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible."

I say: I loved this, and somehow I don’t really know why. It’s hardly original or groundbreaking or even surprising, but there’s something about the way Tolstoy treats the slow demise of Ivan Ilyich that makes this perfection.

It’s all remarkably self-evident and yet unexpected at the same time.

Ivan falls ill and nobody knows what’s wrong with him. He sees doctor after doctor and as his health deteriorates, his family looses patience with him, which causes him to take a good look at his life. He doesn’t understand why he should meet this awful end since he has, in his own mind, done everything ‘properly’ and according to what society demands. However, the more he thinks about it, the more he realises that maybe he hasn’t been as happy as he always presumed.

I think the reason why I loved this is because it is my greatest fear; waking up one morning and feeling/realising that I’ve wasted my life. Although I've never feared death, I've always wanted to know that I did all that I wanted to do, as opposed to all that I could do. I think that is the problem that Ivan faces in the end. That, combined with witnessing his family grow tired and resentful towards him; them, who he did everything for. I think Tolstoy did a great job in describing the frustration and hopelessness that came with it all.

I kept thinking about Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night by Dylan Thomas and how Ivan spent so much time 'raging against the dying of the light' only to, in the end, realise that going gently isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Did I just give away the ending there?

Meh.

It doesn't really matter since it's all about the context. Also, it's such a short read and more about how we personally reflect on life/living and death/dying.

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