Gerasim in the Death of Ivan Illych

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Kayla McIntee
Professor Arby Siraki
ENG 1120 O
February 15, 2013
The Artifice of Life
In Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilych, Tolstoy criticizes several aspects of Russian middle class society. The artifice of middle class life - characterized by pettiness, selfishness, and materialism – was one of the main focal points of his criticism, as well as the lack of spirituality and meaning in that life. Of all the characters in The Death of Ivan Ilych, Gerasim is the most important, for he acts as a foil to the artificiality of their lifestyle, and symbolizes the importance of spiritualty in their superficial world. As a peasant, Gerasim represents what Tolstoy saw as the right (or authentic) life: free of falseness and mediocrity, and instead filled with compassion and meaning. In a world where people must lie, cheat, and feign in order to get what they want, Gerasim is the only character in which honesty and genuineness prevail. Gerasim is also the sole character that grasps the deeper meaning in life and death. He treats Ivan with compassion and empathy, facing the idea of death with acceptance and composure. This juxtaposes Ivan’s other friends and family, who consider it a nuisance for him to be ill; they prioritize the inconvenience it causes them over his suffering.

Gerasim’s character acts as a foil to those in Ivan’s middle class social circle, who represent what Tolstoy portrays as a mediocre life, not worth living. The characters in The Death of Ivan Ilych (most specifically Ivan Ilych, Peter Ivanovich, and Praskovya Fëdorovna) live what Tolstoy referred to as the ‘artificial life’. This lifestyle is limited, unrewarding, and cripplingly ordinary, as outlined on page 764: “Ivan Ilych’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.” In this quote, Tolstoy demonstrated his distaste for the middle class ways of life: petty, self-serving, shallow, materialistic, greedy and meaningless. It is this lifestyle that...
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