Ivan Ilych’s dead. His death would hardly be considered “mourned”, while his family, friends and colleagues are more concerned with how to make money from it. He has lived a life of misery and suffering. It is understandable that one might be curious as to how Tolstoy manages the character of “The Demise of Ivan Ilych”, who finds redemption in the death process. He questions his life’s lack of purpose, denies it, accepts that it is so, and then tries to redeem his self. Ivan has lived an almost identical life to a self-absorbed hamster. It is therefore absurd that he could be forgiven of all his sins within a few short hours. Ivan’s redemption comes through his death. Ivan’s death is painful, and he struggled “as an executioner struggles to save a condemned man, knowing that he can’t save himself” (166), but it ended in forgiveness and joy.
Ivan Ilych lives a life that is conventional, just like his peers. He only realizes it after his death. Ivan follows societal norms so closely that he appears to have lost his individuality. His house is “just like the homes of those of modest means who want to look rich and so they succeed in looking like others just like them” (138). This may not seem intentional, but he is trying to fit in, even if it’s difficult. In the midst of his marital troubles, he compares life to marriage, where his duty is to “lead in a manner that society approves” (134). He only begins to doubt his life when he is dying. Ivan begins to wonder for the first ever whether his life had been for nothing, and if he might have done things differently. He asks himself, “What if I’ve been doing it wrong my entire life?” (164) Finally, he understands that society does not always deem something “right”. He asks himself if he’s lived his life the way he should, and concludes that he didn’t. Although this isn’t the beginning, it is definitely the beginning of the revelation.
Ivan goes beyond simply realizing he’s lived his own life poorly. He realises he’s sucked in his family and possibly ruined their life. He treats his family with such indifference that it is shocking. He is only interested in maintaining the appearance of a functional and normal family. In fact, when he got married to his wife, it was more about him than his wife. He asked himself, “Really…why shouldn’t you marry?” (133), knowing he would have to eventually marry to “fit into” society. His family has also been affected by his callousness and air of indifference. He falls in love before the wedding, but his wife hates him as time goes on. She wishes he was dead. But she doesn’t want his salary to stop. Ivan’s recently engaged daughter is frustrated by Ivan’s sickness because it makes her feel sad and dims any excitement about the upcoming wedding. Even Ivan’s close friends don’t feel bad about his death. All of his friends and family feel only irritation or displeasure at having to perform the unpleasant tasks associated with a funeral.
Ivan, who is dying, realizes that his life and death have been hard on them, whether their tears are sincere or not, and tries reconciling with them. He thinks it’ll be better when he dies for his family, whether or not their tears are genuine. Ivan has never before shown such genuine concern and compassion for someone else. Ivan apologizes to his family for the mess he’s made of their lives, but can only say “sorry” for him and “sorry you, too” (166). He fails to even try to “forgive” himself.
Ivan can finally find closure on his death in the last stages. Ivan experiences immense pain as he dies. He is in constant pain and stops screaming when he realises that he has made a mistake. After apologizing to his son and wife, he immediately feels his pain “dropping at once…from every side” (167). The pain has disappeared and he can’t feel it anymore. Ivan is finally able to overcome his fear. He was afraid to die before, but now understands it is nothing to be scared of. He now wonders what happened to death. His fear is gone because he realizes that he’ll be forgiven. Ivan is finally at peace with God. Ivan blames God in the beginning for his suffering and pain. He weeps over “the cruelty and absence of God”. At the end of his life, he finds peace because “He Whose Understanding Mattered Would Understand” (167). Ivan’s redemption comes now, as he approaches death. He knows that everything is going to be okay, and he feels no pain or fear. Ivan Ilych’s death brings him redemption.
Ivan’s dying is a cruel, slow process. He endures three days of unbearable pain and all those around him are convinced that he is about to die. Ivan only finds redemption after three days of suffering. Any shorter period would have been insufficient. He’s led a life that is meaningless, “wrong”. He has hurt those around him and himself. Pain is eased only when he regrets his actions and realizes what he has done. He will only be forgiven when he realizes his mistakes and tries to reconcile with others. Only then can he find true joy and redemption. Ivan’s demise is the outcome of his life. Had he read the inscription “respice finim” (130) on his own wristwatch chain, it might have turned out differently.