|| Date: 17-08-03 || Back to index ||
|| Tag: book-summary ||
|| Author: Leo Tolstoy ||

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Book cover


The story of a judge with power, beauty, position and fame who saw his world crumbling down right before his very eyes and all he could do was sit, watch, and suffer excruciatingly. The author tells the story from the perspective of Judge Ivan Ilyich.


The story opens up with a funeral: one for Ivan Ilyich. A lot of characters are present. The author makes a point to mention two characters who were competing for Ivan Ilyich’s governmental position. We hear from the widow that Ivan Ilyich has been screaming for 3 days before his death.

The author starts with the birth of Ivan Ilyich. His father was a government official of some sort. His two elder brothers, one was handsomer and one was stronger than Ivan Ilyich but he was the one who was successful in the end.

We hear the story of how he met his wife. That his relationship of his wife was one of both social prestige and love. How she was the prettiest girl.

We hear later of some problems that occurred between them after marriage. How she became bored more times than most and how she asked him many times to abandon his favourite bridge nights and stay with her. He saw it as she trying to get him to be bored with her. We later hear of how he developed a distance from her. How he treated his wife as he would’ve treated his courthouse; with calculated respect and professional distance. His wife later was happy that he spent his time with her, but he was doing it as part of an act he was maintaining. There was no love there anymore.

He hit his side, but he bounced back without a problem, so he thought. After a while, he faced many money issues, especially after moving out to another district. He had to keep up appearances and that meant that the life he had was slowly increasing its upkeep and couldn’t keep up with his salary. He was always short on money. He never sat down with his wife to have a conversation with her. It was an act he was maintaining and trying his damnable best not to disturb the silence.

Slowly but surely, the pain in his side began to increase little by little. It started with him travelling many miles to get a job with a salary of 5,000 rubles. His current salary was not enough.

He slowly began to disintegrate after his pain. He started feeling it every time. Coming and going in short bursts. Every time he thinks its going, it hits back. The doctors tell him that they don’t know. This goes on for around 3 months.

His wife and kids one time enter into his bedroom where he was lying down and they begin talking about an actress they were going to see that very night and which show did she star in; how good she was in this and that show. The man was struck in horror on how they were caring for nonsense rather than caring for him. He was to the point of begging for someone to pity him; to pity him just like a child; to pity him and remind him of how fair life is and how happy he would be.

He remembered a syllogism of all men are mortal. Kasas is a man. Therefore kasas is mortal. Ivan Ilyich mentioned thinking of Kasas as an abstract man, not of himself as Kasas. Kasas never had the schooling he had or the women he had or the power he had or the money and house and kids and job and career and authority and judgement and sanity and intelligence and strength and youth and prestige and fame and reputation that he had.

A very important thing he mentioned later is that he thought that everyone was playing a trick on him by treating him as an sick person and not as a person who is about to die. He wanted someone to pity him as a person who is about to die, not as a sick person who, given the right dosages of the right medicines, would bounce up as he used to be. He wanted them to make it a big deal.

In the end, he died shouting because he realized that he did everything wrong and the only thing that calmed him down after 3 days of constant horror shouting was his admission to that realization.