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"Ivan Ilych's life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible" (2.1).
I don't think Tolstoy was trying for a "likeable" character, but I do think he was striving to find "compassion." We don't have to like Ivan, but it is hard not to feel soryy for him.
The Death of Ivan Ilych
I both agree and dissagree with jill. I do not think that Tolstoy was striving to invent a likable character. However, I do think he was striving for compassion, but not so much. I tend to think of it as a "'science experiment." Tolstoy wanted to see how readers would react to a "troubled man" in the beginning of the book, turning into a "humbled man" in the end.
Although the book seems to be about the inevitability of death, and the light in it, this book is also partly about compassion. We could see that Ivan was hostile towards his wife, daughter, and others around him. This was simply because he understood something that they did not, and he hated them for it. Fortunately, in the end of the novel, Ivan sees his son crying for him, and pities them. By seeing his servant, Gershrum, and his son as the only people who seem to pitty him, Ivan has a change of heart and pities those who are blind.
This and many other reveliations come to Ivan during his last maoments of life. To me, the end of the novel was bitter-sweet. Ivan was finally brought to the light, while at the smae time, it was a shame that these thoughts had to come now, instead of earilier in his life . . . when he could have changed, before it was too late.
Some people will pity Ivan because of this fact. Others will be disgusted, and wish to not end up the way he did. Hopefully, most will pitty him, for that was what the novel was partly about: compassion for others. People will have different emotions for, as I tend to think of it, Leo Tolstoy was not striving to bring out any particular emotion.
A science experiment.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy