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Personal Identify and Self-Reflection in The Death of Ivan Ilyich Explicatory Essay

In the novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy explores the experiences of a person who has to re-evaluate his entire life and his relations with other people.

The protagonist is confronted the fact of his inevitable death, and this awareness prompts him to reflect on his identity as well his value for others. To a great extent, the narrative helps the author to portray the self-discovery of the main character.

In particular, Ivan Ilyich cherishes an illusion that he is a successful person who has achieved happiness; however, his terminal illness makes him see his shallowness and lack of empathy which is critical for the happiness of a human being.

These are the main questions that should be examined in greater detail. They can be viewed as the central themes examined by Tolstoy in this literary work.

It should be noted that at the beginning of the novella, Leo Tolstoy describes people’s reaction to the death of the protagonist.

For instance, Ivan Ilyich’s colleagues, who purport to be his friends, think only about their promotion, especially the opportunity to occupy the post held by the protagonist (Tolstoy unpaged). They have no concern for the wellbeing of his relatives.

Furthermore, his wife feels relief because she was too tired of Ivan Ilyich’s screams. This is one of the details can attract the attention of the reader.

By examining the behavior of various characters, the author demonstrates that other people were not emotionally attached to the protagonist. This is one of the main arguments that can be made.

Later, the author looks directly at the experiences of the main character. He perceives himself as an “intelligent polished, lively and agreeable man” (Tolstoy unpaged). On the whole, he believes that his life has been quite successful. It seems to him that he has fulfilled his talents.

According to the social standards of the nineteenth century, Ivan Ilyich could even be perceived as a role model for others. This is one of the main issues that can be identified. On the whole, Tolstoy shows that up to a certain moment, the main character remains fully satisfied with his himself.

Nevertheless, his terminal illness forces him to reassess his worldview. To a great extent, the narrative shows that the protagonist led a very shallow life; in particular, he only “amused himself pleasantly and decorously” (Tolstoy unpaged).

Moreover, the protagonist understands that he never paid attention to the inner qualities of other people. For example, his wife proves to be an ill-tempered person who does not care about the needs of other people.

The main character is astounded by her callousness at the time when he urgently needs her compassion. Similarly, his so-called friends pay little attention to his misfortunes.

Overall, these details show how Ivan Ilyich looks at his past behavior as well as values which turn out to be false. This is one of the main details that should be considered.

Moreover, in the course of the story, Ivan Ilyich comes to the conclusion that his life has been artificial because it lacked such an element as empathy for other people. In the past, he did not feel the need for empathy and this is why he underestimated its value.

However, he can better appreciate this quality when he notices that people, who surround him, lack this ability to put themselves in the position of others. There are only two exceptions; in particular, one should speak about his servant Gerasim and his son who try to help Ivan Ilyich.

In contrast, other people perceive his suffering as an inconvenience. This is one of the details produces an indelible impression on the main character who is firmly convinced that his wellbeing is vital for other people.

Leo Tolstoy shows how a single event can prompt a person to look more closely at one’s self-identity. Ivan Ilyich perceives himself as a successful individual who has achieved every possible goal.

Nevertheless, he eventually discovers that he has been a shallow person who failed to bring any value into the lives of others. Moreover, many of his beliefs prove to be erroneous, especially the conviction that he was a successful person.

This is one of the reasons why he is so afraid of his mortality. So, Ivan Ilyich’s self-reflection makes him look at many things from a different perspective.

Overall, the narrative of this novella is a powerful tool for describing the inner world of the protagonist and his subsequent transformation. The non-linear plot of the story helps Tolstoy to depict the way in which people respond to the death of Ivan Ilyich.

Moreover, this approach is important for describing the way in which the main character looks at his self-identity, his achievements, and values. The protagonist is forced to change his worldviews and values because he is put in a situation when his principles do not work.

He discovers that compassion is vital for the wellbeing of a person, and this is one of the things that he lacks.

Works Cited

Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilyich. n. d. Web.

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L1v1a. "Personal Identify and Self-Reflection in The Death of Ivan Ilyich." IvyPanda, 8 July 2019,

1. L1v1a. "Personal Identify and Self-Reflection in The Death of Ivan Ilyich." IvyPanda (blog), July 8, 2019.


L1v1a. "Personal Identify and Self-Reflection in The Death of Ivan Ilyich." IvyPanda (blog), July 8, 2019.


L1v1a. 2019. "Personal Identify and Self-Reflection in The Death of Ivan Ilyich." IvyPanda (blog), July 8, 2019.


L1v1a. (2019) 'Personal Identify and Self-Reflection in The Death of Ivan Ilyich'. IvyPanda, 8 July.

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