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Leo Tolstoy the Death of Ivan Ilyich summary (every chapter summaries)

Updated on August 16, 2013

Book: The Death of Ivan Ilyich


Chapter one

The chapter starts with Ivan Ilyich's friends reading in the newspapers that he died. They all knew about his condition, but his sudden death came unexpected. They don't think too much about his death, but more about themselves and the fact that someone has to fill out the position as what Ivan Ilyich worked. They have even already decided who was to get his position.

Pjotr Ivanovich is Ivan Ilych's best friend. He knew him since their childhood and they also went to school together, studied together and worked in the same place. Once again, no one seems to care too much about the fact the he has died. Ivan's wife pretends that she is very sad. Moreover, she tells Pjotr that Ivan suffered immensely and that the last three days he was screaming and crying thoroughly. She only talks of herself how hard it was for her and pities herself. Ivan's wife asks Pjotr if she will get any money from the state. She well knows what she will get in detail, but Pjotr knows that she only asks this him, because she seeks more money. His answer is no. After that talk they part and Pjotr goes into the room, where Ivan is lying and the requiem is held.

Chapter two

In this chapter, we learn more about Ivan Ilyich's life, character and marriage.

At the beginning, he was a smart, moderate and good student and person. He always knew how to behave correctly and appropriately. At some point in his life, a new institution was created, which needed new people for new work. Ivan was one of them and he had a much bigger salary than he used to have. He also had much more power about the others. He liked that that many people were depending on him and that he could decide upon their lifes respectively career. But he never misued his power. He only used his power for the good's sake.

Due to his new occupation, he had to move to a new city. There, he also met his future wife. She was a smart, young and beautiful girl who knew how to behave in society, back then. She also was from a better home and had a small fortune. Eventually, she fell in love with Ivan Ilyich and it was then, when the concrete idea of marrying her occurred. He thought why not and so they got married.

At the beginning, the marriage was a very harmonious one and good and he simply loved life with her. As soon as she got pregnant, it did not take long and this harmony turned into chaos and disaster. His wife completely changed, became malicious and tyrannical.

He realized that she is not anymore the cute girl who he married and his life with her became more and more catastrophic. His only way of getting out of this terrible life was devoting himself completely to his work. He became very ambitious and his work was something his wife admired about him (since he had a very high position). So, he reduced his time as much as possible with his family he had to spend and worked harder and harder, what he liked more and more.

During their marriage, they had in total 4 miscarriages (or the newborn died very soon) and 2 successful children. The boy went to grammar school and was 13 or 14 and a girl who was 16. Both were smart and nice children.

Chapter three

The make holidays on the countryside. Ivan has a idea how to change his life by getting a new job in the first city. On the way there, he meets someone who helps him to get a new position there, in which he is happy. Of course, they have to move to a new house and life seems to get better for Ivan Ilyich. He has a lot of fun decorating the house and so does his wife. And both of them have mostly the same ideas how to decorate their new home. The also feel more in love with each other and everything goes well for them.

While he is alone, decorating the house, he has a small accident. He wants to show the painter how he wants to have the ceiling painted and climbs the ladder. He falls off the ladder and abuts on the edge of a table. Just a little pain - nothing more.

A glance in the Russian text of the Death of Ivan Ilyich


Chapter four

Ivan Ilyich has a weird taste in his mouth and an awkward feeling in the left side of his stomach. He goes to the doctor and they talk stuff he does not understand, because he did not study medicine and he also has to check his urine. In the end, he has a very serious condition. Either he has something wrong with his appendix or with his spleen. He gets some medicaments which he has to take regularly. No one showed any compassion.

Chapter five

Two months passed since then and he looks quite dead, because his eyes became lifeless and he became very slim. His condition worsened and this is the first time that the idea of dying occurred to him. The only cure for his severe pains is dead. He also begins to hate his wife even more.

Chapter six

It was clear to him that he was doomed to die. He could not believe that and also thinks about a person called "Cajus". He compares himself with Cajus and says that Cajus is mortal, he can and will die. But he never thought of the same happening to him, so unspectacularly like he was no one special like Cajus. (Ivan Ilyich belongs to the higher or even highest social class and also had a very strong position in his profession.)

He tries to ignore the thought of dying, but he fails every time and he cannot understand why he has to die so suddenly by such a trivial accident (see chapter 3).

Chapter seven

His condition has become so severe that he is not even able to wash himself alone. A farmer boy called Gerassim has to help him wash and was also Ivan Ilyich's nurse.

Ivan asks him if he can lift his legs and then remain in a lifted position. Gerassim has no problem with that and does this for a long time. Gerassim is also the only person despite Ivan's young son, who has compassion with him and tries to understand how he feels. That's why he has a devotional and self-sacrificing character. In his presents, Ivan Ilyich feels a bit better emotionally and also physically.

Ivan hates the fact that everyone is ignoring the severeness of his condition and the fact that he will die. Only Gerassim does not ignore the fact and also talks more openly about this than the others.

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Chapter eight

His condition becomes worse and worse. He cannot even look into the mirror or eat by himself. He thinks about society and the people surrounding him what has become of them. He is very touched by Gerassim's devotional character and hates the self-pitying of his wife.

German layout of the novel the Death of Ivan Ilyich


Chapter nine

He gets Opium to relieve his pain a little bit, but of course, it always comes back when the effect wears off. He questions his life, his whole life. He wonders whether he has lived the wrong way or not and cannot bear the idea of having made only mistakes in his life. He remembers his childhood, which was very cheerful and free of any agonies and so on and that it was the only time, where he has felt something truly true.

Chapter ten

Ivan lies most of the time on his divan. He finds more and more true feelings and beautiful things in his past, in his childhood and very early adulthood. But such feelings have become more and more scarce. He really thinks that he has lived the wrong way, but he cannot admit this to himself. Also, he is very lonely.

Chapter eleven

The boyfriend of his daughter made a formal proposal what was a good event. His pains have become worse and his wifes wants a priest to come so he confess. After that, his wife asks him whether he feels better or not. He says yes coldly and realizes how much he really hates her that everything he sees of her or hears of her he is only reminded of lies and deceit.

In this night, Ivan finally realizes that in fact, he has lived the wrong way that it was not the true, but wonders what it would be then to live the right way.

Chapter twelve

The last three days, Ivan Ilyich had to bear unbearable pains. He was screaming thee days thoroughly. He questioned his life and finally he had the insight that he lived the wrong way. He just did not know what it would be then to live the right way. When he asked himself, where the pain was they have vanished. He also had no fear anymore of dying, because there was no death anymore. Instead of death, there was now light. And Ivan Ilyich died.

Stefan Zweig – Fear

Hermann Hesse – the Steppenwolf

Hermann Hesse – Siddharta

Hermann Hesse – Demian

Hermann Hesse – Narcissus and Goldmund

Hermann Hesse – Glass Bead Game

Jean-Paul Sartre – Huis Clos

Molière – The Imaginary Invalid

William Golding – Lord of the Flies

Bernand Shaw – Pygmalion

Vsevolod Garshin – A red flower

Viktor Pelevin – The life of insects

Tolstoy – The Death of Ivan Ilyich

More Summaries

Novalis – Heinrich von Ofterdingen

Goethe – Faust I

Goethe – Clavigo

Goethe – Iphigenie auf Tauris

Goethe – Egmont

Goethe – Stella

E.T.A Hoffmann – The Sandman

Joseph von Eichendorff – Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts

Joseph von Eichendorff – The Marble Statue

Joseph von Eichendorff – Schloss Dürande

Georg Büchner – Woyzeck


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