The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Tolstoy, is the story of a man who is faced with suffering and death in which no one seems to believe him. He’s a common man with common dreams. He’s not extraordinary in any way. Ivan Ilyich is a good literary protagonist. His character goes though ups and downs, is well rounded and relatable. Ivan married Praskovya Fedorovna. Ivan doesn’t appear to be in love with her.
She is attractive, has money, a good social standing and he really has no objection to her, “…the marriage gave him personal satisfaction, and at the same time it was considered the right thing by the most highly placed of his associates” (Lawall). This is a relatable piece of life. This may have held more truth back in this era, but it’s not that far off today either. Many people marry for reasons other than love. Ivan had a good job and was very happy with it despite being passed over for a promotion at one time.
He was said to be a gentleman and was admired by his peers. When things were good, they were good. And when they weren’t, well, they just weren’t. “His wife, without any reason – de gaiete de coeur as Ivan Ilych expressed it to himself – began to disturb the pleasure and propriety of their life. She began to be jealous without any cause, expected him to devote his whole attention to her, found fault with everything, and made coarse and ill-mannered scenes” (Lawall). The ups and downs of his life are what make him a good literary protagonist.
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Perhaps this scene is one that men can be empathetic towards more than women. Having a well-rounded character makes for a good literary protagonist. When the reader sees Ivan struggling with his own mortality this completes a circle of emotion for the character. The reader has watched Ivan through good times and bad and has been able to relate on different levels. “In the depth of his heart he knew he was dying, but not only was he not accustomed to the thought, he simply did not and could not grasp it” (Lawall).
Being able to grasp the finality of death especially your own, is something that people have thought about and struggled with throughout their lives. It reminds people they are real and not indestructible. A good literary protagonist is one that is relatable and well-rounded and people need to be able to see this character through their ups and downs and still come out with them as being on top in the end. The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Tolstoy, is the story of a man who had a good life, a decent wife and in the end he suffered and died. As the eader goes through the story of Ivan they are taken into his entire life. He is someone the reader can empathize with which allows connections between the character and reader. Everyone thinks about their mortality at one time or another, but to think about what other’s think of your own mentality is something entirely different. “Besides considerations as to the possible transfers and promotions likely to result from Ivan Ilych's death, the mere fact of the death of a near acquaintance aroused, as usual, in all who heard of it the complacent feeling that, ‘it is he who is dead and not I’” (Lawall).
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