The Death of Ivan Ilych

Trapped in an Isolated Present: The First Chapter of Ivan Ilych

Poor Ivan Ilych is plagued by not one, but two diseases. While his "floating kidney" ends his life, it is a temporal disease - which is actually healed as his kidney disease progresses - that ruins his life. Ivan spends his life in a small temporal space - he managed to "dismiss his past" (51) and instead spend his life focused on his physical trappings and social standing. In his writing Tolstoy made a large effort to fight this condition, "the prejudice of . . . [temporal] closure" (8), which he saw as pervasive in Russian society. But intriguingly, in addition to the characters in the story who have this closed view, the narrative of the first chapter - and the first chapter alone - shares this diseased sense of time in so far as a narrative can be assumed to convey some attitude about time. This singularly diseased chapter works to involve the reader in the attitude that the book then goes forth to destruct

Ivan's temporal disease is first recognized in the opening line of the 2nd chapter, when the narrator tells us that Ivan's life had been "simple and commonplace - and most horrifying" (49). Where does the horror lie, if not in the simple commonplace events of Ivan's...

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