The Influence of Realism in Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich
The novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, shows the influence of Realism on its author. Leo Tolstoy. The illusion of reality, the main theme of the novella, is an aspect of Realism that Tolstoy effectively used in this novella. Other attitudes of Realism that were used by Tolstoy were the plainness of the characters, a plot that consisted of incidents of everyday life, along with everyday language, and the ability to make the reader feel as if he were looking in on events happening in real life. These are all aspects of Realism that show through in Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich.
Tolstoy's intent when writing this novella was to portray the illusion of reality. Many of the minor characters, especially the physicians, depicted the theme. As Ivan Ilyich was becoming sick, many of the doctors came to check on him. Ivan had a problem with these doctors because they dodged the fact that Ivan was going to die. Ivan saw right through these "celebrated physicians," knowing that they were clouding their diagnosis. Ivan's friends, too, became Tolstoy's target for illusion of reality. When they went to Ivan's funeral, they thought that they "should" or "have to" go and comfort the widow. Their real reasoning behind everything was to see who would take Ivan's position at work. Another example of illusion of reality is when Ivan is lying down in excruciating pain and his wife, daughter, and son-in-law enter. Ivan sits and watches as they ignore the pain he is enduring to argue about something as petty as opera glasses. This seemed true to life because people cannot address a situation as big as death, so they talk around it. Ivan is dumbfounded by their apathy in the presence of his impending death. They then said, if they were going, it was time they left. At this point, Ivan wishes to be with Gerasim. Gerasim is the contrast to the other minor characters, he is still untouched by the materialistic society. Because of this, he cares for poor Ilyich and tries to understand his pain. Not only did the characters portray the illusion of reality in this novella, they also showed another aspect of Realism.
One of the guidelines of Realism is that the characters be ordinary and average. This is another example of how Realism influenced Tolstoy's novella. Tolstoy created his characters to be those like an everyday person. The Ilyich family was middle class where the father was a government worker of sorts, showing that their family was not at all extraordinary. The reader even notices that Ivan is a regular worker who got a break for a higher paying position. Ivan even jokes about the "celebrated physician" being there, showing that they probably were not in the same socio-economic class as he was. The things that happened to the Ilyich family are no different and in no way more interesting than the things that go an in anybody's family. In addition, many people everyday deal with disease and death, because it is inevitable. Tolstoy just puts their life into a realist's point of view, nothing more. The realist's point of view affected the plot of the story, too.
The plot of The Death of Ivan Ilyich was nothing more elegant than the language. The plot was an everyday situation where there was little or no climax. At the beginning, there were people at a funeral who then decide to go and play cards. There was no extraordinary event throughout the novella. The only event nearing amazing was the pain that Ivan went through while dying.
The language, like the plot, was not eloquent. The family spoke with the words of a middle class family. The only time any ornate language was used was when Tolstoy made the physician use jargon to portray him as an illusion of reality. Because the language was ordinary, it was easy for the reader to feel as if he were actually there with the characters.
When one reads this novella, it is hard not to feel as if they were sitting in on the story. An example that would have the reader feel this was when Ivan was screaming for three days. You felt sorry for him because of his pain. Another time the reader felt that they were actually in the story was when Ivan asked to talk to Gerasim because you knew it made him feel better. Sometimes even reading what Ivan's wife did to him made the reader feel as if she were a bad person. This is easily done because Ivan did not really marry her for love, just because that what a person like him "should" do, be married.
Because of the influence of Realism on Tolstoy, his novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich showed the aspects of Realism. Tolstoy wrote about an everyday individual in an everyday situation who lived in a society where the illusion of reality has taken over. Although every aspect of the novella cannot be analyzed this way, it is obvious that the philosophy of Realism had an influence on Leo Tolstoy and his novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich.