The Death of Ivan Ilych

Tedium Extraordinaire

"It is as if I had been going downhill while I imagined I was going up. And that is really what it was. I was going up in public opinion, but to the same extent life was ebbing away from me. And now it is all done and there is only death."

--The Death of Ivan Ilych, Leo Tolstoy (144-145)

In American society in particular, it is often difficult to fully register the moral point made by Bergman and Tolstoy about the true meaninglessness of public repute; but Ivan's commentary on his life awakens that nagging awareness in the recesses of one's conscience, that while basking only in the glory of "public opinion" we risk a moral regression of equal magnitude - the more terrible reality that a meaningful, thoughtful life is "ebbing away." The Death of Ivan Ilych and Wild Strawberries each shed light on the danger of mechanical living. Isak Borg and Ivan Ilych undergo the ironic tragedy of social success. Ivan's life tells the story of a typical bourgeouis social climber; focused on doing everything that is "expected" of him, his lack of attention to personal virtue renders him ultimately "le phenix de la famille" (Tolstoy, 102)- the phoenix to the failing. Comparably,...

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