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The Death of Ivan Ilyich summary

Leo Tolstoy

A Journey to Reckoning with Mortality

4.8 (22 ratings)
16 mins

Brief summary

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy tells the story of a man's journey towards death and the realization of the emptiness of a life lived purely for personal gain. It delves into the themes of mortality and the meaning of life.

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    The Death of Ivan Ilyich
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    Comfortable Life, Alarming Diagnosis

    Ivan Ilyich is the epitome of a man contentedly established in society. As a high-ranking official in the judiciary, he has successfully crafted a life that his peers admire, and society approves of. Every detail of his existence, from his well-appointed house to his well-groomed appearance, portrays a perfect image. Ivan's orderly routine involves working diligently during the day, then enjoying the leisure pursuits reserved for people of his stature during the evenings.

    His marriage, though not impassioned, provides a steady rhythm to his life, just as expected. He enjoys the company of his colleagues and finds ample satisfaction in the small power plays that unfold as part of his job. Life runs smoothly, predictably, the way a well-oiled machine would. Never does Ivan consider questioning the humdrum predictability of his life – why should he when it's comfortable and secure? 

    However, life has an uncanny habit of bringing unexpected twists. For Ivan, this unexpected twist comes in the shape of a health issue. What begins as a nagging discomfort grows into a hindrance. Ivan doesn't see it as a grave issue because, in his predictable life, there's no room for something as inconvenient as a threatening illness. He believes his strength and determination, which helped him climb society's ladder, will get him through this.

    Ivan consults doctors, trusting that their professional expertise can shield him from the inconvenient problem and restore normalcy. The facial expressions of the doctors, their vague terminologies, and the prospect of a serious underlying illness, however, quickly become a source of alarm. Suddenly, Ivan finds the predictable pattern of his life disrupted.

    Despite his efforts to push these unsettling thoughts away, the idea that his ailment might be severe gnaws at him constantly. Ivan becomes a reluctant visitor to a world of medical jargon and precarious health scenarios. Even though he clings to his hopes, the words 'terminal illness' taint the air around him, slowly penetrating his subconscious.

    The doctor’s concluding diagnosis is a death sentence announced in the most mundane fashion, wrapped up in an envelope of medical jargon. They speak not of saving Ivan Ilyich, but of managing his symptoms – an ominous suggestion of the finality that awaits him. Yet, they keep a stoic professional exterior even while carrying the chilling news.

    From here, Ivan's life takes a drastic turn. His routine, his work, his comfortable monotony are replaced by a chilling fear. Friends and colleagues, once his evening pastime companions, now gather around him, their expressions marred by uneasiness. His work, once his pride, now looms large and aloof. His house, a symbol of status, is merely the backdrop to his inescapable suffering.

    The sudden realization dawns upon Ivan – he is dying. The fear is terrifying and deeply lonely. How can this person, so entrenched in life's routines, so attached to his superficial achievements, be dying? Fear now layers every thought Ivan has, every moment of his existence. His life seems alien, as if he suddenly became a spectator of it.

    As a result, Ivan’s mundane existence starts changing as he steers into the unknown territory of terminal illness. Even within the comfort of his home, within the familiarity of his life, Ivan confronts the most disturbing outsider – death. The alarming diagnosis triggers a catastrophic shift in Ivan's life, plunging him into a deep state of introspection, bringing us to the next chapter of his journey.

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    What is The Death of Ivan Ilyich about?

    The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) tells the compelling story of Ivan Ilyich, a high-ranking official residing in the comforts of societal norms. The unexpected blow of a terminal illness derails his predictable routine, dragging him into a journey of profound self-reflection. The narrative forces Ivan to confront his mortality head-on, thereby shedding light on universal themes of human existence.

    The Death of Ivan Ilyich Review

    The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) by Leo Tolstoy offers a profound exploration of life, death, and the human condition. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It delves into the universal themes of mortality, existential angst, and the search for meaning, inviting readers to reflect on their own lives.
    • Tolstoy's narrative genius shines through in his vivid portrayal of Ivan Ilyich's journey, creating a captivating story that keeps readers engaged until the end.
    • The book's philosophical depth allows readers to contemplate the nature of happiness, the value of human relationships, and the importance of living an authentic life.

    Who should read The Death of Ivan Ilyich?

    • Readers curious about existentialism
    • Fans of Russian literature
    • Individuals exploring mortality

    About the Author

    Leo Tolstoy was a world-renowned 19th century Russian author whose impactful writings have significantly contributed to the world of literature. His writing, including substantial works such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina, embodies the realism genre, examining life's intricate themes, such as mortality, societal norms, and authenticity.

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    The Death of Ivan Ilyich FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Death of Ivan Ilyich?

    The main message of The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a contemplation of life, death, and the pursuit of meaning.

    How long does it take to read The Death of Ivan Ilyich?

    The reading time for The Death of Ivan Ilyich varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Death of Ivan Ilyich a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a thought-provoking read that explores the complexities of life and mortality.

    Who is the author of The Death of Ivan Ilyich?

    The author of The Death of Ivan Ilyich is Leo Tolstoy.

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