Ivan Illych Essay, Research Paper
In the Bible the Pharisees were the Jewish upper class. They socialized with the Roman governors and Israel s finest citizens. The Pharisees were the richest and most educated men in the area; they were also the leaders in the Hebrew society. They appeared to be the most successful men of their day, but in reality it was all a smoke screen they used to look successful. The Bible shows that they were hypocrites who only cared for themselves. The Pharisees did not care about their families or their religion. In one instance Jesus was preaching to a crowd of people and said, Everything they do is done for men to see (Matthew 23:5). The Pharisees only about how people saw them. Leo Tolstoy s novella The Death of Ivan Ilych focuses on a modern Pharisee . In the story Ivan Ilych s self-centered formula for success was really a failure. Ivan failed in his family and official life. He also placed too much emphasis on material possessions, and he ruined his social life.
Part of Ivan Ilych s formula for success was to make others think he had the perfect family, but his family was only for show. Ivan married Praskovya Fedornva for social acceptance and not love. When Ivan decides to get married Tolstoy tells us, To say that Ilych married because he fell in love with Praskovya Fedornva and found that she sympathized with his views of life would be as incorrect as to say that he married because his social circle approved (525). A lot of successful people marry women they don t love because it makes them look good. In the story the only reason Ivan married Praskovya was to improve his social standing in his community. Ivan did not care Praskovya; he only cared about making himself look successful in society s eyes.
Another problem with his family life was that Ivan substituted his work for his family. As his family life started to become difficult Ivan transferred the center of his life more and more to his official duties (Tolstoy 526). A rising problem in America is the idea of work first then family second. This idea destroys the family and causes the family to hate you and your work. In the story Praskovya and Ivan s daughter hated Ivan because he was never around, but even when he was home he focused on his official duties and not on his family. The main problem with Ivan Ilych s view of his family life was that it was a self-centered view. Ivan decided to marry Praskovya because she fell in love with him. Ivan Ilych had at first no intention of marrying, but the girl fell in love with him [;] he said to himself: Really why shouldn t I marry? (Tolstoy 525). No family can survive if a person just uses the family to gain money, power, or social status without ever giving the family something back. Ivan Ilych only used his family, and this caused all sorts of problems. Robert Wexelblatt stated, one should be at least an even better family man , one who marries for love ( Symbolism 224). A person cannot assume that his family is only for show and be successful. To be successful in life one has to love and care for his family, putting the family as a top priority in his life and not just a status symbol.
Ivan also failed at becoming successful in his official duties. One problem many people battle with throughout their careers is committing acts that go against their moral code so that they can become more successful. When Ivan Ilych was growing up and starting his career he had done things which had formerly seemed to him very horrid and made him feel disgusted with himself when he did them; but when later on he saw that such actions were done by people of good position and they did not regard them as
wrong, he was able to forget about them entirely (Tolstoy 522). People are so driven by the idea of becoming successful that they do not care about their actions or who that they might hurt. In corporate America businessmen will stab each other in the back to gain a new promotion. In the story Ivan Ilych would have done anything to gain a higher rank in the justice system. To Ivan his friends and colleagues were nothing more than steppingstones for his career. After he gained his first promotion, Ivan was obliged to give up the connections he had formed and to make new ones (Tolstoy 523). Like many people in this world the worth of [Ivan s] colleagues was their capacity to advance his welfare and his pleasure (Wasiolek 172). In today s world people value others for what they can get and not for whom they are. This idea often causes hard feeling between the parties and devalues human life. Another big problem Ivan had was that he was power hungry. In the novella Ivan enjoyed being able to ruin anybody he wished ruin, the importance, the external dignity of his entry into court (Tolstoy 527). Ivan was driven by his quest for power; he thought that by becoming powerful he would become successful. He thought that when he became powerful enough he would become successful. All that Ivan Ilych s quest for power earned him was the ill feelings from the colleagues that he used and jealousy among his peers. Ivan believed that taking advantage of people and doing whatever was easiest to do in a situation would make him successful; all that it made him was average.
Ivan Ilych also thought that acquiring material possessions would make him successful in life. Ivan thought that he had to wear the most expensive clothes made by the most fashionable designer in order to become successful. After he graduated from
Law School Ivan Ilych ordered himself clothes at Scharmer s, the fashionable tailor (Tolstoy 522). In the world today, people are judged by what they wear and how they look instead of who they are. Today s society is just like Ilych s world because people are constantly judging the appearance of others instead of their character. The problem with this is that people place a higher value on suit than the person wearing it. Ivan believed that other people would view him as successful if had the biggest and nicest house on the block. Ilych devoted much of his time to making his house appear high-class, but in reality it was just what is usually seen in houses of people with moderate means who want to appear rich (Tolstoy 530). Nothing has changed since Tolstoy wrote this story; middleclass Americans still buy large, spacious houses so that they can appear successful to everyone looking at them. But all that they are doing is becoming just like every other average middleclass American. Tolstoy spends a good deal of time on Ivan s house, sneering a little at his bourgeois taste ( Death ) because he found it pointless for the middleclass to build facades of wealth so that they can look average. Ivan Ilych also thought that money would make him successful. When Ivan left for Petersburg for his new rank all he now wanted was an appointment to another post with a salary of five thousand rubles (Tolstoy 528). Ivan did not care about what ministry he was moved to or where his new post was located; all he cared about was the money. People believe that money makes success, but they are wrong. The lust and drive for money causes more problems than the money can fix. Ivan Ilych and people in today s world view material possessions as success, but in their self-centered, materialistic thoughts they forget about other people and their relationships.
Ivan s self-centered formula also failed in his social life. Ilych used the church as a social club so that others would think he s a religious man. As Ivan Ilych was dying his wife wanted to get the priest, but he replied, Why? Take communion! That s unnecessary! However (Tolstoy 556). Ivan did not care about the church or religion; all he cared about was his appearance. He, like many people, only used the church as a status symbol. Ivan Ilych just wanted people to look at him and say, Wow! Look at that upstanding and holy Ivan Ilych. He hasn t missed a Sunday in five years. He even put up this facade when he was on his deathbed. Ivan thought that he could become successful by having successful friends. When the Ilyches moved to Petersburg they formed a circle of acquaintances among the best people and were visited by people of importance (Tolstoy 532). Ivan sought society s best for his circle of friends so that he would look successful. Ilych and his peers did not care about anyone that belonged to an inferior class because they were not successful. The funny thing about the best society had to offer was that were all the same; society s best were dependant on other people s success. Another problem with Ivan s formula for social success was that he was two-faced in public. In the story whenever Ivan went out in public he dealt with people with an exactness and incorruptible honesty of which he could only be proud (Tolstoy 523), but in reality he was trying to hide his true nature. Gary Jahn wrote, The entire direction of the narrative is toward the display of the falseness, insincerity, and consequent spiritual inadequacy of [Ilych s] life (11, 12). Ivan Ilych believed that if you pretended to be what the public wanted to see then you would be successful in their eyes. In today s world politicians and businessmen try to please everyone by pretending to be what they are not;
eventually the public will through their mask and reject them as liars. Trying to build a fa ade for every group so that they will think you are a great man will lead to failure. In Ivan Ilych s self-centered formula for success he placed himself on a higher level than his associates; this caused him to fail in his social life.
Ivan Ilych s formula for success caused him to have a miserable family life and an average career. It also caused him to have a very materialistic lifestyle and a dismal social life. Ilych s self-centered formula for success was the failure that caused his ruin. The saddest part of Ivan Ilych s life was the ray of hope comes to late to compensate for what he comes to regard as the futility of his past existence (Christian 238). In Ivan s formula for success he forgot the one thing that makes people truly successful: relationships. Leo Tolstoy s life in many ways paralleled that of Ivan Ilych. Tolstoy was born into an aristocratic family where he was the le phenix de la famille (Tolstoy 522). He went to a good university and became an acclaimed writer. Like Ilych, Leo Tolstoy soon found himself disillusioned by with his writing so he decided to tour Europe. When Tolstoy returned to his hometown of Polyana he married the daughter of a well to do doctor and began to write again. Soon afterward he became depressed with his life and converted to Christianity. As time passed Tolstoy became very sick and never fully recovered; he spent the last decade of his life battling poor health. Toward the end of his life Leo Tolstoy and his wife began to have family problems so he and his daughter left and began to travel across Russia. While riding a train Leo Tolstoy became sick once more, and he died after several days of suffering in a stationmaster s house. Some critics believe that Tolstoy wrote The Death of Ivan Ilych because he secretly lost his pride in
himself, his faith in his on strength (Spiers 142). Whatever the reason behind the story, Leo Tolstoy s The Death of Ivan Ilych shows that caring about others is the only way to become successful.
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