Analysis of Leo Tolstoy and his work, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Narcissism in The Death of Ivan Ilyich and The Devil

So I know it’s a pretty obvious theme throughout The Death of Ivan Ilyich but there’s no help but noticing it. Ivan is pretty much the definition of a narcissist. Of course, all he cares about is himself and whether he is happy or whether he is enjoying himself. He concentrates on what will make him succeed and what will put him in a superior position to other people. 

We see the downfall of this character throughout the story and how his narcissism leads to his own destruction. Although he has an unidentified fatale disease, he could have lived his life more fully and died at peace rather than destroying what was left of his own existence with his obsessive thoughts on being better than everyone.

This is seen throughout Tolstoy’s works, as Eugene in The Devil also leads himself to his own destruction. This time through greed and again narcissism as greed can be a form of narcissism. Eugene is led to his demise because he neglects the fact that Stepanida is only getting with him for the fact that he has money. So in turn his lust for having his father’s money and finally taking it turns into Stepanida’s own greed for his money. Stepanida’s own desire for his money leads Eugene to believe that she is actually in love with him. Which if you read the end of the story and I hope you gals did finish it because well…uh spoiler alert…Eugene kills himself. The innocent lust for money eventually ends in his suicide.

Tolstoy tries to make a point throughout a lot of his works that having a high political or social position is not important. In fact it may often be detrimental to oneself.

Ivan, before his death, was a highly regarded court justice. 
Eugene inherited a large sum of money.

Both had “power” and both lost power. What caused them to have this so called power eventually led to their ultimate demise. This is exactly what Tolstoy is getting at. He is trying to convey to the reader that often times being of high stature is actually a hindrance. 

In the end the aspect that made them so worthy, that gave them a place in the world, destroyed them.

So anyway the two theses I’m stuck on at the moment are:
1. In The Death of Ivan Ilyich, the titular character leads himself into his own destruction through the use of his own narcissism and sense of self importance.

2. In The Devil, Eugene is led to his own downfall through his lust for money and women.


Christina: Thesis

Okay guys, so I have decided to sit down and decide on my final thesis for my paper. We discussed a ton of topics concerning Ivan Illyich and I decided that I want my paper to be focused on that story, because there really is a whole bunch to write about. So for my thesis I was thinking to talk about how Ivan is the prime example of how people try to live up to the standards of society and their peers and of their own accord despite the fact that it may not truly be in their best interest. Kind of how we want to get into that big-name school when in reality there are a thousand great schools to chose from. So where I am running into trouble is the wording and how I am going to take this and run with it. Heres my ideas so far:

Thesis: Ivan Ilyich is a prime example of how society’s expectations and norms shape people into preset molds.

Running with it: Talk about his decisions when it comes to his path in life, his decisions with love, and his ultimate resolve. Then, compare his decisions to common-day decisions that parallel his behaviors and thought processes. Then sum up how society changes our thought patterns to fit something the majority approves of.

Any suggestions?

Term Paper

I hope you guys have though up some decent themes for the paper.

Keep in mind we read 2 stories and part of War and Peace so we can definitely use all that information. 

I was thinking maybe each of us should have themes relating Tolstoy as a writer and not just get stuck in only one story.

Remember our theses/topics are due next week so get to brainstorming. Good Luck!

– Nelson

Mother Knows Best

Ultimately I think Eugene’s mother is going to come out as the winner in this situation. But will she have the ultimate power? I don’t think so. Eugene in the end will fulfill what he wants to fulfill to make himself happy. He wants to be with the streetwalker.

His mom will have power in the sense of pushing him towards this, but in the end he wants this.

– Nelson

Food For Thought

Christina’s Question: Is sex what Eugene really wants, the physical desire and hunger for it, or is it something more than animalistic instinct?

I would have to agree that Eugene is falling in love with her. As a result of him falling in love, I believe that he is blind to certain things. For example, If they really shared a loving relationship then why does Stepanida get joy of others envying her for her money. If she was so in love she would not want to flaunt this money to people, but make others envious of her by showing off her “caring/charming” companion. But i guess since she is a prostitute this is a once in a life time opportunity for her. For her sake, she is lucky that Eugene is blinded by love and that he makes decisions that in the end are not particularly best for himself in the long run. Maybe he is just so deeply in love that he showers her with expensive things to show his caring for her. So he is also harming himself in a financial sense.

– Alexis


Christina I agree with what your saying regarding Stepanida and envy. But I cannot help but think that Stepanida wants to be envied by the other people in town, particularly men, for being wealthy because by other being envious of her she feels power over them. I think she has control/power issues and she is simply using Eugene to facilitate this. And at the time who wouldn’t want to live an easy comfortable life, especially as a women. Like I mentioned earlier women were treated as objects and served men 3 purposes to have sex, cook/clean, and bear children. I think there relationship will be extremely short lived because they do not share any commonalities. they are getting married for all the wrong reasons.

– Alexis

Monster-In-Law Continued

I could not help but picture what is going on with Eugene’s mom to be out of the stereotypical soap operas. In this case Eugene’s mom puts on that fake front about caring about her son and his well-being in life yet in the end she only cares about herself and like Christina said, her financial securities. Selfish much? I think so. Again I agree with you Christina that Eugene is going to be facing a real issue settling down especially since we know how women were treated and looked upon during those times. I can only imagine how the rest of the book is going to unravel. Who will have the ultimate power? Eugene or his mom?

– Alexis

What? EUGENE is evolving!

I never thought I would see this coming. Knowing Tolstoy, I thought Eugene would stay a womanizing fellow and everyone and everything in this story would be horrible. Everyone would be stereotypically selfish, envious, jealous. BUT wait what’s this Eugene is evolving? There’s character evolution? What is this?!

Although I did predict in some of the comments that Eugene would eventually end up in a relationship, I never though it would be under his own accord. I know, I know he isn’t anywhere close to being in a healthy relationship with Stepanida BUT I see him falling in love. He refuses to rendezvous with other women. He’s definitely falling for her. I never suspected that we would see this man (especially a man modeled by Tolstoy) experience actual human emotions. I’m proud Tolstoy!

– Nelson

Side Note

Here’s a question for us to discuss and hopefully decipher the answer to…

Is sex what Eugene really wants, the physical desire and hunger for it, or is it something more than animalistic instinct?

I know this is super cliche, so please, forgive me in advance… Relationships between people are not simply physical; there is always something more to it, etc. etc. Take for instance the movie “Friends with Benefits”, just in case you’re not following me. Do you guys think this holds true in this case?

My answer: Yes. I think he is falling in love with her. And hold on, ding ding ding, shall I incorporate some Dostoyevsky in this? I think so; he is making decisions that are harmful to himself. He is falling for a woman that is, in essence, a prostitute and he refuses to acknowledge it. Not only that, he is providing her with such a sufficient amount of additional income that the entire town is noticing! Um, self-harming, check; illogical, check.

– Christina

Out with the…new in with the Old?

Okay, remember when I said I liked where Tolstoy was going. Well I’m pretty sure I was wrong. I find that Women are simply becoming objects once again in the reading. Eugene’s mother just wants him to marry so she can have cash flow. Eugene just wants to get with every woman and her mother. I do not see this heading in the way I was hoping. At least women are being sexist toward themselves or actually perhaps we’re seeing men as being objects this time around. Okay wait I like where I’m going with this.

Eugene’s mother is just using him as a pawn to get what she wants. She wants him to get married so she can be better off. That doesn’t sound like objectifying women. It sounds like objectifying men. I like where this is going!

– Nelson

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