The Death of Reality and the Reality of Death
Death is never easy. Afterall it is the only sure thing anyone will ever do. Yet how one dies is determined by how they live. One who lives their life to the fullest will be content and open to death, while one whose life has been empty will fear it; but what if the difference between full and empty was not so easily differentiated? What if reality and falsehood were the same? This idea is contemplated in both Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy. In the world of the salesman, Willy Loman, who can not see who he is nor distinguish reality from fantasy, and the world of Ivan Ilych, who can not see his life for what it is nor find true happiness, reality is hard to distinguish. Both the Death of a Salesman and The Death of Ivan Ilych consider worlds of falsehood that are centered on protagonists whose self-deceptive nature causes their deaths, yet Ivan Ilyich is able to recognize his world of lies and find true peace where Willy Loman can not. Falsehood is a constant in both stories. Ivan Ilych is surrounded by an aristocratic world which is singularly focused on appearances. This is apparent when observing the mourners at Ivan’s funeral, primarily Ivan’s friend Schwartz. Schwartz goes through the motions: crossing himself, visiting the body, consoling the widow, yet as he does this he “felt that the desired result had been achieved: that both he and [the widow] were touched” (Tolstoy 518). Everyone is simply doing what is appropriate because it is expected of them rather than because they actually care. Likewise, Willy Loman believes that appearances are critical to success when in reality they are not. Willy declares that “the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want” (Miller 33). It is obvious that success is a primary lie in both stories. Ivan believes that his life has been pleasurable and Willy believes that he is a prosperous salesman yet neither of these things are true. Willy convinces himself that he’s well liked and that his sons are destined for greatness. Neither wants to accept the fact that their lives are lies, that they lack substance. Willy metaphorically states “Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground” (Miller 122). He subconsciously realizes that his life has been a failure and begins fixating on some sort of material proof of substance for his life. Ivan Ilych realizes this too, though consciously. While he is dying, “it occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spend his life as he should have done, might after all be true... he tried to defend all those things to himself and suddenly felt the weakness of what he was defending. There was nothing to defend” (Tolstoy 555). Both Ivan and Willy live in worlds that they have created in their minds, neither of them have lived full lives and neither of them have true success. This falsehood is what leads to both Willy Loman and Ivan Ilych’s deaths. Throughout it all, the biggest falsehood that Willy fails to see is the falsehood of himself. He has spent his whole life believing that he’s above the rest, successful and well liked, yet he is not. He is not a salesman at heart. Willy does not know who he is. He desperately wants to be a salesman despite having the skills of carpentry. In the end, although his life is falling around him he still clings onto the dream of being successful. So Willy concocts a plan that will get his family $20,000, give his son Biff a good start at fulfilling the dreams that Willy thinks he ought to have, and that will prove to himself that he is a success, able to give his family what they deserve. So he decides to kill himself. He believes that he is worth more dead than alive and refers to his plan as a diamond, “rough and hard to the touch” (Miller 126), something...
Bibliography: Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Penguin Group, 1976. Print.
Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilych. Perrine 's Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense. 7th ed.
N.p.: Christopher P. Klein, n.d. 515-58. Print.
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