The Death of Ivan Ilych

What does the black sack in this excerpt from Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich symbolize?

Till about three in the morning he was in a state of stupefied misery. It seemed to him that he and his pain were being thrust into a narrow, deep black sack, but though they were pushed further and further in they could not be pushed to the bottom. And this, terrible enough in itself, was accompanied by suffering. He was frightened yet wanted to fall through the sack, he struggled but yet co-operated. And suddenly he broke through, fell, and regained consciousness. Gerasim was sitting at the foot of the bed dozing quietly and patiently, while he himself lay with his emaciated stockinged legs resting on Gerasim's shoulders; the same shaded candle was there and the same unceasing pain.

    • death

    • missed opportunities

    • corrupt relationships

    • childhood

    • mental conflict
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I think death is the answer that is best on this list, although I am not sure that any of the answers are completely clear. For one thing, we do see that he has "mental conflict" in that he wants to keep pushing through the bag which seems bottomless. Yet, he seems - just before he pushes through the bottom of the bag and comes out the other side - to be very accepting of what is about to happen. We are told that many people approach the experience of dying with a kind resignation of "He was frightened yet wanted to fall through the sack, he struggled but yet co-operated." He is conflicted, but seems almost ready to die. Yet, when he gives up and pushes through, he comes out on the other side and has not died, but lives yet another day.