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 October 9, 2023
October 2, 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
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
From the outset of the novel it is clear that Tolstoy believes there are two types of lives: the artificial life—represented by Ivan, Praskovya, Peter, and most everyone in Ivan's society and company—and the authentic life represented by Gerasim. The artificial life is marked by shallow relationships, self-interest, and materialism. It is insular, unfulfilling, and ultimately incapable of providing answers to the important questions in life. The artificial life is a deception that hides life's true meaning and leaves one terrified and alone at the moment of death. The authentic life, on the other hand, is marked by pity and compassion. 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. Whereas the artificial life leaves one alone and empty, the authentic life fosters strength through solidarity and comfort through empathy. It creates bonds and prepares one to meet death.
Gerasim alone is unafraid of death. Confident in the correctness of his life and unafraid of personal involvement, Gerasim has a self-sacrificing love for others that infuses his life with meaning. The spiritual support that Gerasim provides to Ivan by empathizing with his plight and relieving his isolation is even more important than the physical support Gerasim provides by holding Ivan's legs. Gerasim is able to lessen Ivan's pain by sharing in it. The virtue of the authentic life is that at the same time Gerasim is helping Ivan, he is also benefiting from the relationship. Compassion and love go both ways, and the authentic life is the right life.
The story of Ivan's steady approach toward death is also the story of Ivan's recognition of death and his search for a compromise with its dreadful and nullifying power. How is one to make sense of the end of one's life, of one's relationships, projects, and dreams, of one's very existence? Throughout the novel, Tolstoy makes clear that preparation for death begins with a proper attitude toward life. As Ivan's attitude toward life changes, prompted by pain and the prospect of death, his emotions progress from sheer terror to utter joy. The avoidance of death that characterizes Ivan's social milieu is based on a delusion designed to protect people from unpleasant realities. It leads only to emptiness, horror, and dissatisfaction. An acceptance of death, however, and recognition of the true unpredictable nature of life allows for confidence, peace, and even joy at the moment of death. More than anything else, then, the novel can be seen as a lesson on making sense of death through living rightly.
Much like the artificial/authentic dichotomy, Tolstoy depicts human existence as a conflict between the inner and the outer, the spiritual life and the physical life. Up until Chapter IX, Ivan is a purely physical being. He shows no indication of any spiritual life whatsoever. He lives for the benefit of his own flesh and relates with others only insofar as they promote his desires. Worst of all, Ivan mistakes his physical life for his true spiritual life. He believes that his existence is the "right" existence, and he refuses to see the error of his life. As a result of denying the spiritual, Ivan is incapable of transcending the physical. He experiences excruciating pain, overwhelming unhappiness, and absolute terror. Yet when the prospect of his death forces Ivan to confront his isolation, he gradually begins to see the importance of the spiritual life. As he grows toward understanding, as he supplants the physical with the spiritual, he moves beyond suffering, conquers death, and experiences extreme joy. Tolstoy's message is clear: the task of each individual is to recognize the duality of the self and to live so as the less important physical life conforms to the more important spiritual life.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Death of Ivan Ilych!