From this description, it is evident that Ivan's life proceeds by a kind of balance, or moderation, prescribed by his social superiors. Indeed, propriety and decorum emerge as virtual leitmotifs of Ivan's life. He chooses his friends based upon their social standing. He decides to marry because it is considered the right thing to do. His conduct and worldview are wholly determined by the opinions and expectations of the elite class. Given our knowledge of the life and values of the Russian bourgeoisie as related in Chapter I, the metaphor Tolstoy employs to describe Ivan's relationship to his social superiors—that of a fly being drawn to a bright light—is especially fitting. Just as a fly's direction of flight is determined by the location and placement of the light, so too is Ivan's movement through the social world dictated by the concerns of his social superiors. Yet the metaphor works on an even deeper level. In Tolstoy's day, the light that attracted flies was a burning flame. When the flies reached it, they were instantly killed. This implies that Ivan, by conforming his conduct to the opinions of the upper class, is moving closer and closer to the flame that will burn him alive. Bourgeois society is the metaphorical bright light.

Throughout Chapter II, Tolstoy makes use of several foreign-language expressions that seem to operate on two levels. Referring to Ivan as le phenix de la famille could mean that he is the member of the family most likely to succeed, or it could foreshadow an eventual rebirth on Ivan's part, a rising up from the ashes after the burning death caused by society, much like the mythical phoenix that was reborn from the ashes of its own destruction. Similarly, the motto inscribed on his medallion respice finem, meaning "look to the end," could be both a helpful suggestion for a future lawyer to focus on the outcome, or a warning for a man traveling down the wrong life path to prepare himself for death.

Ivan's unwillingness to concern himself with the unpleasant, a theme that emerged with his peers in Chapter I, now establishes itself as a defining characteristic of Ivan's personality. Ivan becomes adept at establishing barriers and closing himself off from the unseemly and indecorous aspects of life. He retreats from his wife during her pregnancy when her behavior introduces something "unseemly" and "depressing" into his life. He absorbs himself in official work, isolating himself from the demands of a family. Ivan adopts a formal attitude to married life. In a manner reminiscent of his professional behavior, he begins to see marriage in contractual terms, requiring only the conveniences of dinner, housewife, and bed. He maintains a safe distance from his wife and family by inviting guests whenever he is obliged to be at home. Like Peter Ivanovich and Schwartz, Ivan begins to play cards, no doubt a needed diversion. Ivan's professional ability to reduce complicated cases to mere forms on paper, to deal with potentially emotional and personal situations in terms of cold externals, is reflected in all aspects of his life. One wonders whether Ivan will succeed in making of his own life a mere form. We must recall the funeral notice in Chapter I, a mere form on paper that announces Ivan's death. With his professional life strictly professional, and his personal life far from personal, one begins to wonder which of Ivan's lives, if either, is truly real. Thus, by the end of Chapter II, it becomes clear that by beginning to close himself off, Ivan is closing himself off from everything, including life itself.