In his essay on Existentialism, William Barrett, after briefly summarizing the plot of The Death of Ivan Ilych, concludes, "In the end Ivan Ilych dies content, because he has reached the point of knowing that the life he lived was empty, futile, and meaningless. " R. F. Christian quotes D.F. Mirsky's comment that Ivan Ilych, before his death, "sees the inner light of Faith, renunciation and love," only to ask, "But faith in what? And whom does he love? And how can he help renouncing life when he is at death's door?" Christian then goes on to contend that Tolstoy "resists a facile 'religious' conclusion," and in his closing remarks on the story states that "man's situation is tragic and absurd -- but not hopeless. For Ivan Ilych the ray of hope comes too late to compensate for what he comes to regard as the futility of past existence."Irving Howe and Philip Rahv follow the same vein, with Howe commending Rahv's remarks that we should not see what happened to Ivan Ilych as unsual; for, as Rahv puts it, "Ivan Ilych is Everyman, and the state of absolute solitude into which he falls as his life ebbs away is the existential norm, the inescapable realization of mortality." Howe warns, "let us not exaggerate and thereby pro- vide Ivan Ilych's end with an 'uplifting' moral … only after he realizes, thereby in a sense forgiving himself, that it does not really matter anymore whether his life has been good -- can Ivan Illych surrender himself."5
Duncan, Robert L.
"Ivan Ilych's Death: Secular or Religious?,"
University of Dayton Review: Vol. 15:
1, Article 11.
Available at: https://ecommons.udayton.edu/udr/vol15/iss1/11