The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Topics: Social class, Social status, Sociology Pages: 3 (979 words) Published: September 25, 2013
In Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, a man becomes conscious of the true pleasures in life only an hour before his demise. The protagonist develops a feeling of inadequacy when he longs to belong in that which he does not. Ivan Ilyich copes poorly with his inferiority complex by being self-deceptive and excessively materialistic. He wishes to resemble a higher social class and misrecollects the definition of authentic happiness during his pursuit.

Ivan Ilyich acquires an inferiority complex because of his socioeconomic status and consequently overcompensates by obsessing over his house and finances. The issue is deeply rooted in his childhood: “[…] from the earliest age he had this quality of being drawn […] to the most highly placed people in society, of adopting their manners, their views of life, and of establishing friendly relations with them” (9). It is for this reason that Ivan Ilyich seeks the most (externally) prominent feature of the social class: material success. However, one cannot merely join a class in which one must be born into—Ivan is unable to realize that he can only become an archetype at best. No amount of following allows him to gain a true sense of belonging, hence his persistent feeling of inferiority. Ivan’s ideal image of his content self is thus skewed and centralized on materialistic matters (or the “highlight” of being rich). When he solicits a promotion with a new salary of 5000 rubles, Ivan believes that “[…] his faltering life was again acquiring its true, natural character of cheerful pleasantness and decency” (18). The finances are essential to his high spirits: “all his vexation with his former enemies and the entire ministry was forgotten, and Ivan Ilyich was completely happy” (17). Ivan’s fixation on materialism is a form of overcompensation because he feels as if his financial advancements correspond to his level of superiority. The extra 1500 rubles temporarily soothe his complex and inch Ivan towards the...

Cited: Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilyich. New York: Vintage Books, 2009. Print.
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