Matters of Life and Death

Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Here are some questions to help guide your reading of this book.

  1. What is Ivan Ilyich's attitude toward death at various points in the story (e.g., before he becomes ill, once he recognizes his illness is fatal, after the three days of screaming)?
  1. How does Ivan Ilyich judge his own life, and how well he is living it, at various points in the story?  What are his standards for making this judgment, and how do they change?
  2. What important contrasts to, or reflections of, Ivan Ilyich do the other characters in the story provide?  (In particular, what do you notice about his co-workers, his wife, his children, and Gerasim?)
  3. Does social class play an important role in Ivan Ilyich's understanding of his life and death?  If so, how?
  4. Do you consider the ending a happy one for Ivan Ilyich?  Why or why not?

Strategy for reading the book:

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