Life Without Meaning
Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist’s novella, The Death Of Ivan Ilych is a literary classic. Its central message is illumination about death. The protagonist of the novella fears his death. He has lived a meaningless life.
He is suffering from an incurable disease. The incurable disease tortures and torments him daily. He confronts death daily. He does not want to die. Others may die. He cannot die. This is the common approach of humans to death. The syllogism he had learned as a student that ‘Caius is a man, men are mortal and therefore Caius is mortal cannot apply to him.’
‘Caius was indeed mortal, and it was only right and proper that he should die, but he, Vanya, Ivan Ilych, with all his thoughts and feelings- it was quite a different matter with him. And it could not be right and proper that he should die. That thought was too horrifying.’ ‘But the thought was more than a thought, it was reality itself and it kept coming back and confronting him.’
He persisted in thinking that ‘But it(death) cannot be. It cannot be, and yet it is. How is it possible? How is one to understand it?’
Ivan Ilych’s sick and tormenting life is vividly pictured. The pathetic picture touches the reader’s heart which sympathizes with him. Ivan Ilych is lonely and neglected by his wife and daughter. His son remains unconcerned and neglected.
Ivan Ilych lived a mechanical and meaningless life. But he longs for longevity despite his fatal disease.
On the day of premonition of his inescapable death, he realizes that his life has been purposeless and loveless. He admits the fact that death is the overpowering victor not to be feared. He instantly welcomes it. He smiles at it.
Tolstoy is spiritually-oriented like Mahatma Gandhi.
He espoused universal love and non-violence.
Chapter Xii of the novella contains the message of the writer.
Love and forgive and forget is his message to the world.
Tolstoy practiced the philosophy of love towards all, that is, goodwill towards all and ill-will against none.
Ivan Ilych is the Russian representative or type of the corrupt and power-hungry bureaucrat of his time.
Illumination At the End
He repents that he did not love his wife, his daughter, and his son as much as he ought to have as the head of the family.
On the day of his death, Ivan Ilych comes to know his purposeless life. Illumination strikes him.
In the words of Tolstoy:
‘He felt for the pain.
“ Ah, here it is. What of it? Let it be.
And death? Where is death?
He searched for the accustomed terror of death and could not find it. Where was death? What was death? There was no fear because there was no death.
There was light instead of death.’
This illumination makes him happy at his end and he breathes his last happily.
The story is crafted in a life-like style and the structure of the novella is compact and both are harmonious and enjoyable. The message of the novella is spiritually enlightening and satisfying.