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The Death of Ivan Ilych

Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title The Death of Ivan Ilych

author Leo Tolstoy

type of work Novella

genre Exemplum (tale told explicitly to illustrate a moral lesson); satire of upper class; psychological novella

language Russian

time and place written Begun in August 1885. Tolstoy completed a finished draft of the story in January 1886, but he revised the proof sheets and submitted a virtually new version of the story in mid-March. The novel's final revision was presented to the publisher on March 25. Written in Russia.

date of first publication 1886

narrator Omniscient

climax The major climax of the novel occurs in chapter XII when Ivan Ilych is suddenly struck in the chest and side and pushed through the black sack into the light. Ivan finally discovers the right way to live and realizes the error of his past life.

protagonist Ivan Ilych

antagonist Bourgeois society in general, which may take the form of Schwartz, Praskovya, Peter, or a professional colleague.

setting (time) Late nineteenth century

setting (place) Petersburg and the surrounding Russian provinces and cities.

point of view The novel is from the point of view of the omniscient narrator, although action occasionally progresses from Ivan's point of view.

falling action Insofar as Ivan experiences his climactic epiphany in a single moment before his death, the novel contains no falling action. The falling action for the other characters occurs in Chapter I of this chronologically out-of-sequence novel.

tense Past

tone Frequently satirical and mocking; subtly pedagogical

themes The right life; the inevitability of death; inner life vs. outer life

motifs Reversal; alienation; the pleasant, the proper, and the decorous; contraction of time and space; bourgeois society; foreign language references

symbols The black sack

foreshadowing By means of ambiguous foreign language references (le phenix de la famille, respice finem), symbolic dreams (the black bag), and descriptive imagery (the fly to a bright light), Tolstoy foreshadows Ivan's death and spiritual rebirth.