Tolstoy and Chekhov

Death of Ivan Ilych" and Ward No. 6"

An analysis of "The Death of Ivan Ilych" and "Ward No. 6" reveals that death is a critical concept in both. While Ivan Ilyich and Dr. Andrei Yefimich are similar characters, the significance of their death is very different. While these are clearly different characters, they share similar viewpoints regarding death and, to an extent, life itself. Ivan lived his life in a vacuum and reached out to others very little. His concept of what was important related mostly to work and success. Andrey's view of the world was bleak and hopeless. His attitude towards his patients was cold and aloof. Both men neglect the "human" side of life and, as a result, do not truly live. The result of this combination is psychological alienation. Death brings this realization to Ivan while Andrey must come to grips with his insensitivity by becoming a victim. Death brings sorrow for one man and sorrow brings death for another. These stories teach us about living through the power of death.

Both protagonists share a similar fate in that they are forced to think of life by considering death. For instance, we read that Ivan's mental anguish is "worse than the physical sufferings" (Tolstoy 1412) he endures. The thoughts concerning his death become his "chief torture" (1412) because he is forced to thin about death. As we might expect, thoughts of one's impending death can bring about a myriad of thoughts and this is what happens to Ivan. He becomes distraught with his life when he begins to see it in retrospect or as an after thought. He is concerned that he has lived a "wrong life" (1412). Ivan realizes that there is "nothing to defend" (1413) when it comes to his life. Andrey shares similar sentiments about life and death but he discovers them in a completely different way. He is plagued with his thoughts of futility for many years and this alters his feelings toward his fellow m an. In fact, he has grown so accustomed to his feelings about the world and the people in it that he has actually become desensitized to his own thoughts. His attitude toward the world makes him indifferent to much of what happens around him. Andrey is aloof and disengaged and asks, "Why hinder people dying if death is the normal and legitimate end of everyone? What is gained if some shop-keeper or clerk lives an extra five or ten years? If the aim of medicine is by drugs to alleviate suffering, the question forces itself on one: why alleviate it?" (Chekhov). Andrey is cold toward death and this makes him cold toward suffering as well. People are not significant to him and his eyes will only be opened when he can see the world from another perspective. Lives are either transformed are hardened by experience and these two men have not truly experienced their lives. Ivan must face his own demise while Andrey experiences the suffering of others to finally come around.

It is also significant to examine how each author paints a picture of living through exploring death. Death does not just happen to each man; it becomes the catalyst in each story. Both characters are similar in the demeanor but the significance of their death is different. In "The Death of Ivan Ilych," Ivan realizes that there are different ways to live and facing death forces him to realize that he has lived most of his life artificially. His life has not been authentic and for this, he is regretful. Even more frightening is the fact that Ivan must face the fact that he has lived his life the wrong way. One of the most startling revelations Ivan experiences is the fact that he is making his family miserable. This notion as well as the though that his entire life has not been the "real thing" (1412) causes him great distress. In short, Ivan realizes that his life has not been real but unreal. In "Ward No. 6," Andrey has revelations about life without actually coming face-to-face with death. Chekhov uses Andrey's death as a message regarding Andrey's life, however. When Andrey suddenly becomes aware that he has been wrong about most all of his beliefs, he begins to suffer immensely. In the asylum, things look and feel different to Andrey. As the reality of what has happened to him sinks in, he mutters to himself that this must be "real life" (Chekhov). In addition, he admits, "I used to be indifferent. I reasoned boldly and soundly, but at the first coarse touch of life upon me I have lost heart" (Chekhov). We read that in his last moments, Andrey asks, "How could it have happened that for more than twenty years he had not known it and had refused to know it?" (Chekhov). In addition, he realizes that he knew "nothing of pain, had no conception of it" (Chekhov). Here we see how each author conveys a message about life through death. How we live is important and one significant aspect of living is connecting with others. These men do not place much value in life or people until they face insurmountable circumstances. The men might differ in that Ivan realizes what it is that he has lost; while it is too late for him, it is not too late for us as we learn from his story. Andrey, too, comes to a realization but it saddens him and causes his death. Learning from the experiences of others is the best way to learn - especially when it comes to such significant lessons.

Both stories focus on the concept of psychological alienation. In "The Death of Ivan Ilych," Ivan works earnestly to have a better life but he is less genuine when it comes to more difficult things, such as relationships. He makes is a point to dissociate himself from his wife when she becomes moody. He is incredibly self-centered when it comes to others in that he is looking at them from the viewpoint of how they can benefit him rather than looking at others and noticing what he can for them. Because he is so distant from others, he has no real intimate or beneficial relationships. This attitude toward others is also reflected in Ivan's attitude toward any type of spirituality. It is significant to note that Ivan's acquaintance's reaction to his death is a reflection upon Ivan. Because they cannot see his death as anything personal - for him or for themselves. The consensus is that his friends are glad that they are still alive. "He's dead but I'm alive" (Tolstoy 1371). In short, they mirror each other in that they do not feel connected to Ivan just as Ivan never felt connected to them. He finds meaning through his work and his accomplishments. He does not see investing in those around him as a viable option for any type of growth or possible potential. In "Ward No. 6," Andrey suffers from psychological alienation in different stages. He is no doubt detached from those around him. His is quite comfortable with this and seems not to be bothered by the notion that he is a man that finds contentment with the intellectual things of life. He spends his evenings reading, thinking, and interacting very little. Even when his acquaintance, Mihail Averyanitch, visits him, he is not engaged. We read that he would "listen without hearing; he was musing as he sipped his beer" (Chekhov). Here we can see how Andrey is content in his own head and he does feel the need to interact with others on any real, substantial basis. He is fine in his own head but this attitude tears him away from the world. His…