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Reader’s Den

The Reader's Den: "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" Discussion Questions


[Women In Dresses, 19th Century.], Digital ID 826419, New York Public LibraryI hope you have enjoyed reading The Death of Ivan Ilyich.  Please share your thoughts and favorite excerpts about story or Leo Tolstoy and take a moment to consider and discuss any of the questions posted below.

  • In the beginning of the story we read of Ivan's friends and family's reactions to his death.  Who shows compassion for Ivan?  Why do you think Tolstoy chose this/these characters?
  • Ivan wants to know why he is afflicted.  Do you think Tolstoy is suggesting a cause-and-effect relationship between Ivan's suffering and the life he has led?
  • Is a theme of this story more about how Ivan lived or how he died?
  • What is Tolstoy's attitude toward medicine and the medical profession?
  • Is this story optimistic?
  • Does Ivan find redemption from wretchedness?


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I think one aspect of the novel that really stood out for me was Ivan's pure disdain for his wife! I want to say that she's sympathetic and tries, but Ivan just keeps pushing her away. So maybe she just gives up on him. I just finished reading Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love by Andrew Shaffer, and there's a chapter on Tolstoy's relationship with his wife. Its very similar to Ivan's relationship with his wife. After reading Anna Karenina this summer, this was a breeze of a book to read! But I notice that Tolstoy likes to repeat himself a lot and I wonder if that's why his novels can be challenging? Anna Karenina took me 3 months to read and Death of Ivan Ilyich, 3 days. I think it is a great book for Tolstoy beginners!

Thanks for taking this story

Thanks for taking this story on after reading Anna Karenina, Kerri. It sounds as though Tolstoy used personal experience as inspiration, as well as his religious convictions. I wonder if the repetitiveness Tolstoy uses makes Ivan a more realistic character, as often happens when people share their dramas with several people or go over it in their own minds again and again. Your observation is very interesting.

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