Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews December 8, 2023
December 1, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at email@example.com. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
See discount terms and conditions.
Why does Tolstoy choose to place Ivan's funeral in the first chapter?
By placing Ivan's funeral in the first chapter, Tolstoy provides an intimate view of the social milieu Ivan occupied, thereby rendering it susceptible to evaluation and critique. He also establishes contrasting attitudes toward the unpleasant aspects of life, a principal theme in the work. The shallow relationships and the artificial, self-interested behavior of Ivan's wife, colleagues, and friends demonstrate the hypocrisy of his society, and serve to undercut the values by which Ivan lived his life. The fact that Ivan's colleagues are more affected by the professional position opened by his vacancy than by the death of their friend and co-worker is as much an indication of their self-interest as it is of the misguided principles by which Ivan lived. Similarly, Praskovya's indifference toward her husband's death highlights both Ivan's inability to develop a loving relationship with his wife and her own shallowness and falsity. In this way, Chapter I, in part, serves as an attack on the empty and valueless life of the society of which Ivan was a part. The falseness of relations, the insincerity of interaction, and the primacy of self-interest are satirized by Tolstoy, and revealed as inadequate and ultimately unfulfilling.
Yet Chapter I also functions to establish contrasting attitudes toward death. Neither Peter, nor Schwartz, nor Praskovya, nor Ivan's colleagues at work are willing to confront the prospect of their own mortality. They avoid it, ignore it, and gene rally discount its effect on their existence. Thus, the habit of disregarding the unpleasantness of life is a habit of Ivan's society. The peasant servant Gerasim, on the other hand, is the only character that openly acknowledges his own mortality. He confronts death and unpleasantness as inevitable aspects of life. By pitting Gerasim's worldview against the worldview of the members of aristocratic society, therefore, Tolstoy lays the groundwork for an exploration of one of the work's major themes.
Some critics believe that The Death of Ivan Ilych is a work of moral fiction, that it is designed primarily to provide moral instruction to its audience. Discuss this claim and provide evidence from the text to support your opinion.
There is no doubt that a definite moral agenda drives Tolstoy's narrative. The Death of Ivan Ilych is designed to make us question the way we have been living, and ultimately, to conform our behavior to the model of right living presented in the novel. Although imparted in the context of a story rather than in a logical argument, Tolstoy's beliefs come across no less clearly. By describing the thoughts, desires, and goals of an average man of moderate means, Tolstoy creates a composite sketch of us all. In allowing us to identify with the life of the protagonist, Tolstoy also links us emotionally to his suffering and agonizing death. If Ivan's values and goals, not so dissimilar from our own, lead him to a bitter existential crisis at the moment of death, what will our beliefs do for us? We begin to wonder whether the crass materialism and hypocritical relationships of Ivan's society, so mercilessly satirized by Tolstoy, extend even to our own lives. Ivan's misery and unhappiness suddenly appear not so far away.
Yet through Gerasim's model and Ivan's death-knell epiphany, Tolstoy points us in the direction of the light. The right life, the authentic life, is one of compassion and self-sacrificing love. It sees others not as means to ends, but as individual beings with unique thoughts, feelings, and desires. The authentic life cultivates mutually affirming human relationships that break down isolation and allow for true interpersonal contact. It fosters strength through solidarity and comfort through empathy. It creates bonds and prepares us to meet death. Gerasim is the only character that lives wholly and unambiguously the right way, and it is not a coincidence that he is also the only character unafraid of death and personal involvement. Just as Gerasim teaches Ivan the true meaning of life, so too, Gerasim acts as a moral guide for us. By describing Ivan's incorrect life, consequent suffering, and ultimate rebirth into a moral existence, Tolstoy succeeds in providing us with a roadmap to morality.
Identify and discuss the narrative and structural devices that Tolstoy uses.
Tolstoy locates his narrative within a shrinking spatial and temporal framework. Space and time both progressively contract throughout the novel until they reach point zero at the moment of Ivan's death. The first four chapters of the novel span more than forty years. Tolstoy relates his account of the life of Ivan from childhood, through the development of his professional career and his marriage, to the onset of his illness. During this time, Ivan moves freely from province to province. His spatial boundaries are virtually unlimited. In the second four chapters, the novel's action spans several months. Ivan's illness develops, and as he struggles to cope with his physiological degeneration he is limited spatially to the confines of his study. The fi nal four chapters of the novel cover less than five weeks. Dedicated to Ivan's decline and agonizing death, they span the shortest amount of time and most severely limit Ivan's spatial dimensions, restricting him to the sofa in his study. This steady shri nking of time and space accentuates the feeling of paralysis, anxiety, and helplessness that Ivan experiences. It reinforces the sensation of imminent death in a subtle and effective way. Yet this device does more than emphasize death, it also allows Tols toy to express a principal theme of the work. As space and time begin to close in on Ivan from all sides, as Ivan's physical existence disappears, Ivan is reborn into a spiritual life. He experiences a single changeless moment, and when Ivan sees the ligh t, he explodes the boundaries of time and space by passing into spirit. Thus, not only does the shrinking spatial/temporal framework enhance our feeling of the protagonist's experience, it also helps Tolstoy explore the theme of the spiritual vs. the physical world.
Another of Tolstoy's subtle structural devices deals with the amount of words he uses to describe events. Give or a take a few words, every chapter in the novel is progressively shorter than the chapter before it. While chapter I is approximately 300 lines, chapter VII is 153, and chapter XII is only 73. The decreasing size of the chapters compliments the decreasing time frame and spatial dimensions. It gives the story momentum, and propels the reader toward the inevitable conclusion of Ivan's life.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Death of Ivan Ilych!