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

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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.


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

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

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


I’m actually not totally disappointed with Tolstoy at this point. I like the juxtaposition that you just mentioned Alexis and it brings about some thoughts. Perhaps Tolstoy can achieve some deeper thought with his stories as apposed to just saying people are bad. People are complex creatures. They want one thing but they go for another. I think Tolstoy’s experimentation with the human psyche is done pretty well here. Either that or I could be completely off and over analyzing it. Over all though I do prefer the writer I’m seeing now then the one I was seeing before.

– Nelson


At this point I would just like to thank you guys for all the great ideas you came up with. I’m so glad we managed to finish the story. I mean we already have a good grasp on who Tolstoy was and what type of author he is but maybe it would be interesting to read another little story or two. I don’t know, if we still have time. Either way I think we all have some great topics for our papers. Anyway happy end of term. I’m so glad this quarter is finally over. I’ve been so stressed out with other classes. We definitely deserve this little four day break. Congrats guys! haha.

– Nelson


As I have said in many of the comments sections, I think Tolstoy reveals Ivan Ilyich’s death right off the bat as to desensitize the reader. By revealing his death in the title, the author prepares the reader for the fact that there will be a death in the narrative. This desensitizes the reader from feeling sorry for the main character and thus lets the reader judge Ivan for all his obvious flaws. Had Tolstoy not “desensitized” the reader, the reader would have a more clouded outlook on who Ilyich is as he/she would feel sorry for his death.

This is a recurring theme throughout the story, swell as the fact that Tolstoy pulls out the same old tricks of making society seem like its full of corrupt hateful individuals, class conflicts, and many of the stereotypical themes used in literature of this era.

– Nelson


I don’t know if you guys have been looking at the comments sections. They seem to go kind of unnoticed. Please check out the comments I have left on some of your posts.

– Nelson


Hey guys, don’t forget to check the comments sections for replies to posts and what not.

– Nelson

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