The Death of Ivan Illych
Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Illych tackles truly existential issues, mortality, and the sense of living. The main character, like most people, does not know answers to these questions. Therefore, his process of illness and dying becomes a spiritual quest that should lead him to a certain conclusion. As a result of the misfortune, Ivan Illych realizes that his whole life is false, as well as his relationships with people. He gets so disgusted by these lies that in the course of approaching the death, he seeks simple and universal truth, which becomes his main target. He realizes that he used to care only about his life being comfortable, and this was his wrong understanding of happiness. Because he had a good house, a wife and children, connections, and respect in society, it looked as if he had everything that was necessary in order to be pleased and approved by others. However, as Ivan realizes in the end, his life was empty because it was devoid of true spirituality and care for others. He understands that the true sense of living is in serving others through love rather than satisfying one's own desires and needs. In fact, the character has a private conversation with God before he elicits the final truth about whether life is worth living if a person is mortal. His soul awakens in the end, and it is not too late because these hours make the difference and help Ivan realize the essence of true religion through the contact with Gerasim. As he has an insight into the superiority of spiritual needs, he suddenly stops worrying about his own death and vanity of his life. He regains the ability to transmit the divine love through simple humanity. This enables him to see the light and realize that there is no death, after all: "He sought his former accustomed fear of death and did not find it. "Where is it? What death?" There was no fear because there was no death. In place of death there was light" (Tolstoy).
Gerasim is a meaningful figure in Tolstoy's novella, as he embodies common Russian people in contrast to upper-middle class representatives such as Ivan Illych. Through this character, the author demonstrates that genuine humanity and the true faith of Christianity are kept with simple people whose life is not overcomplicated by false values. Through the brotherly treatment of Gerasim, Ivan Illych realizes that spirituality is not detached from bodily life and that it is not separated from mundane daily duties either. On the contrary, simple actions of daily routine can be spiritual in case a person has a connection with God. Gerasim is also an example of how the fear of death can be destroyed by means of faith, which does not require proof or philosophical justification. Being a simple peasant, Gerasim sees the death as a part of life and part of God's plan, so he is not scared away from Ivan Illych by his state. In his turn, Ivan is soothed by this routine treatment of mortality and feels grateful to his helper. Ivan's son who visits his father helps the character reconcile with his situation and find a new meaning in it. Ivan lost touch with his family a long time ago, so his son's genuine empathy and his sincere tears help them re-establish this family bond and turn into loving people again. According to Tolstoy, the essence of living is simple and it is related to faith and acts of service to people, as well as imperfect love for imperfect people.