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The Superficiality of Bourgeois Relationships in The Death of Ivan Ilyich

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To quote Norman Cousins, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” Ivan Ilyich discovers at the end of his life that he is surrounded by a lot of false friends and family, who do not think about his health. The novella written by Leo Tolstoy presents to us in a strong and reinforced way the superficiality of bourgeois relationships by using the omniscient point of view to describe the respective characters.

One of the main characters in the novella is Peter. Peter is a bourgeois that studied with Ivan when they were younger, and for Ivan, he was his best friend and a person that he trusts and respects a lot during his life, but as a famous phrase shows us, “Fake friends are like shadows. They follow you in the sun but leave you in the dark.”. Peter was not like Ivan thought, Peter was a fake friend that was just interested in his money and status and in Ivan’s darkness days he was not present.

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In the first chapter of our novella, we can know how that Peter acts as he cares about Ivan’s death and like he is preoccupied but he wasn’t, he was thinking about the advantages that he can get with the event, and that attitude is evident in the first paragraphs, when he is telling his boss about Ivan’s death

Looking at the previous example, we can see how false was Peter and he wasn’t a friend that people want to have. Another example is how selfish he was with Ivan and this shows us more what is a good friend. Isn’t everybody that is a good friend to you, you need to choose the real ones and Peter is the one we need to avoid, because he only thinks in his benefits, like, when Ivan die, his brother-in-law can take Ivan’s job and then his wife will be happy with him. We can perceive this falseness in a lot of fragments.

A sample to finish showing a little of what Peter did is about the ‘’sacrifice’’ that he needed to do when Ivan die and doesn’t want to the funeral because for him it was a waste of time inasmuch as he wasn’t really feeling bad because of Ivan’s death. We can behold this attitude in the following excerpt: ‘’Having told his wife at dinnertime of Ivan Ilyich’s death, and of his conjecture that it might be possible to get her brother transferred to their circuit, Peter Ivanovich sacrificed his usual nap, put on his evening clothes and drove to Ivan Ilyich’s house.’’

Looking at all the examples before, we can infer that Ivan’s life isn’t really good, because the person that he considers his best friend was false and selfish. We all know that Ivan it wasn’t the perfect person and he commits a lot of mistakes with his family but we deserve just one person to trust and the person that he like a lot just think in himself, and with that, we can perceive that Ivan suffers all he did.

Another important character in the story is Praskovya Fedorovna, Ivan’s wife. Praskovya is a really essential character for the text, being another example of how unfortunate was Ivan’s life because his own wife didn’t like him and just care about his money and the fortune that she will get after his death, like Peter. Other people that we will see are his children. His son was a really kind person that cares about his father and stayed with him until his death but his daughter was not like that, he was ready to get married and because her father gets sick she needed to suspend it.

Ivan wasn’t a present father and husband, he just cared about his job and his own life and because of this selfishness his wife started to hate him more and more and she thought that everything bad that happens in her life was because of him, even the more simple things and that is why Praskovya wasn’t sad because of Ivan’s death, she was the opposite and for her, when he dies she will be free and she will get all the money that he worked to have. One example that explains clearly about how Praskovya hates Ivan is when he was about to die she tried to show the doctor that she was really kind and that she was a good wife, she kisses him, but she never did this before so we can see that this is just to show other people another reality.

The other two characters that help us to see the reality of Ivan’s life is his son and his daughter. His son, Vladmir is Ivan’s youngest sibling and we can show that he is really kind with the father that is very bad and with a very difficult illness, so the son is very concern and preoccupied about his father future. This may happen because he is too young to understand about the things but he was not like the other bourgeois and at the end of Ivan’s life, Ivan felt sorry about Vladimir and he saw how important his son is for him and he felt sorry because of all he did wrong.

Looking to the last paragraph, we can see a hope in a lot of falseness of the bourgeois, we can see that Vasya, Ivan’s child isn’t like the others and he cares about his father feelings and he expresses his feelings in the text, the feelings of a person that isn’t like all around him.

To show another reality, without falseness and selfishness and to see that wasn’t all Ivan’s life that was like that, Gerasim, his servant wasn’t like the other and he wasn’t part of the bourgeoisie, representing a different person in the middle of the others, the salvation.

Gerasim, is a good guy comparing to the others and we can see this since the start of the story that he is different from the other because he isn’t bourgeois, he is proletarian (the middle class) and those type of people work for the bourgeois and he was better than the others because he was one of the few people that really care about Ivan’s health and about how Ivan was feeling. In the start of the text, when Ivan still a bad person that doesn’t care about the other and only for himself and his own job, Gerasim used to do everything to him and to Ivan feel better, but when Ivan feels that he will die, he started to be a better person and to be kind with Gerasim, and then he understands how important he and the other people are in his life, like in the continuation of the last paragraph, he said to Gerasim that Gerasim didn’t need to do everything to him anymore and then Ivan show Gerasim that he changed a lot. Gerasim, after all, that Ivan did to him he was still kind and he was the one that confirms to Ivan that he was dying. Everyone tried to hide this from Ivan but Gerasim thinks in Ivan and how it will change him and that was a bad idea to do this, so when he was taking care Ivan he told him: He saw that no one felt for him, because no one even wished to grasp his position. Only Gerasim recognized it and pitied him. And so Ivan Ilyich felt at ease only with him. He felt comforted when Gerasim supported his legs (sometimes all night long) and refused to go to bed, so he told Ivan mainly, being really authentic and honest. Doing the conclusion about how different and important was Gerasim in Ivan’s life, we need to consider everything that Gerasim did to him and that Gerasim helps Ivan to change his life about everything that was going on, and then Ivan starts being selfish and superficial that just cared about himself.

To conclude about everything that happens in the novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, it’s evident to understand that Leo Tolstoy, in the text, wants to show us what is a miserable life and an example to show us that is Ivan Ilyich`s life. Looking at the perspective of a man that had everything good in his life: a wife, son and daughter, a really good job but he lost everything for a disease, so everything in our life is vulnerable and we can lose it really fastly, and that is the reason that we need to enjoy each part of it and be a good person with everybody around us, because if you are not being the best you can with other people at the end of your life you will not have people to trust and they will be just interested in what you have, like his wife. It is important to remember that not everybody has people like Gerasim in their life, that will do everything good for you even if you are not a good person.


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