As I started reading this I assumed the story would be about everyone’s reaction to the death of their ‘friend’. Tolstoy does such a great job of highlighting the selfishness of people and how wrapped up they can be even in the death of their ‘friend’ that I figured he would carry that thru-line all the way to the end.
And that’s what he did, only by backtracking and giving us a look at Ivan through the course of his life and miserable death.
Tolstoy really had it in for the ‘middle-class’ in this story. He saw them as unimaginative, hangers-on, helpless, and in love with the little power that they were allowed to possess. He sees their dreams as mundane, their routines little more than rat-like, and their fate horrible. In fact, were this story not conceived and written by a great master of literature, I could easily see a similar theme being explored by a teenager in high-school; such is the disdain for (the 19th Russian equivalent of) ‘suburbia’.
Luckily, we’re instead treated to a masterpiece of well thought-out and brilliantly realized storytelling.
The death scene is something that is remarkable and terrifying that I actually felt a little closer to understanding what death could be like just from reading this. Anyone who reads this and does not question their own mortality and the point of their own existence should get their wandering kidneys examined.