The Death of Ivan Ilych

With Clean Hands, In Clean Linen: A Reflection of Nineteenth-Century Russian Society

In his novella The Death of Ivan Ilych, Count Leo Tolstoy offers readers a glimpse into the life and death of a socially ambitious Russian gentleman, Ivan Ilych. During the story, Ivan's character is revealed in several different ways: firstly, oddly enough, at his funeral, where the actions of his friends serve to portray Russian society as a whole. Tolstoy then uses flashback technique to recount Ivan's life and his attitudes toward his family, his job, and his friends. Ivan's lifestyle only solidifies Tolstoy's perception of 1880s Russian society. From observing Ivan's thoughts and actions, it becomes obvious that he wants nothing more in life than to be approved of by others, and to do everything properly. Through Ivan Ilych's life and death, Tolstoy criticizes the society around him - a society overly concerned with propriety, conformity, and social approval.

Tolstoy immediately begins his attack on Russian society at Ivan's funeral, through the actions of his "friends"; more specifically, he focuses on their preoccupation with seemly behavior and job promotions rather than genuine mourning. The assorted gentlemen actually show their selfish tendencies even before the funeral - as soon...

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