A Fully Glossed Russian Text of “The Death of Ivan Ilich” with Explanatory and Interpretive Annotations

Chapter 10

[1] [2] 

[3]  –


  1. Chapters Two, Three, and Four cover a period of many years in the life of Ivan Ilich, up to the onset of his illness. In Chapter Seven it was noted that his illness was in its third month. Here we learn that two more weeks have gone by. In Chapter Eleven weeks are mentioned again, and Chapter Twelve begins by mentioning days and concludes with the note that the agony of the patient lasted another two hours. Clearly, the steadily diminishing units of time which are mentioned in the text are matched with the steadily decreasing size of the chapters in which they are mentioned. (See the section "Proportions of the Text" in the "Introduction.") This brings a steadily accelerating rhythm to the final chapters. The text draws our attention to this in the final paragraph of Chapter Ten: "And the example of a stone falling downwards with increasing velocity entered his mind." The Russian text might more exactly be translated as: "And the image of a stone flying downward with increasing speed lodged in his soul" (literally, 'fell into his spirit' (Russ. 'zapal v duxu').
  2. In Tolstoy's study in his house at Yasnaya polyana (his country estate) the largest item of furniture was a broad couch in black leather which was positioned against the wall just behind the desk and chair at which Tolstoy usually sat while writing.  It was at this desk that he wrote "The Death of Ivan Ilich."  The black couch had been in the family a long time.  It was on this couch, in fact, that, according to family tradition, Tolstoy himself and each of his siblings had been born in the 1820's.  This couch seems very similar to the one described in Ivan Ilich's study, on which he lies in his final weeks and days with his face turned to the wall.  There is an interesting and perhaps significant juxtaposition between the couch in the story as the site of Ivan Ilich's death and the couch in Tolstoy's study as the site of his own and his siblings' births.  Here is a picture of Tolstoy in his study with the couch at his back.
  3. We note that both of the images supplied here ("at the bottom of the sea" and "in the earth") suggest places of burial, providing confirmation that Ivan Ilich is, for practical purposes, already long since dead and even buried. Thus, the struggles which he continues to face are suggested once more to be spiritual rather than physical in kind, and to be associated with the rebirth of the spirit. From this also stems the importance which Ivan Ilich attaches to his memories of childhood and his desire to be a child again and to be treated as a child (Chapter Nine). His preference is to move, in thought, spiritually, back from the life he has led toward the moment of his birth.
  4. The similarity between Ivan Ilich's reflections ("course of thoughts") pertaining to his illness and physical decline and his deliberate remembering of his life as a whole makes it virtually explicit that his illness is a metaphor of his life. "The one and the other flowed together. As the torments became ever worse and worse, so also did my life as a whole become ever worse."