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

Chapter 6


[2]  [3] [4]



[7] [8] [9] [10] [11]





  1. Once again the telling use of the word "soul," linking the beginning of Chapter Six to the end of Chapter Five.  It would seem that Ivan Ilich's soul is gradually coming to life just as his body is ineluctably sliding toward death.  This may suggest that there is some basic incompatibility between the body and the soul such that the well-being of the body may hide the distress, or even the existence, of the soul and, conversely, that the distress of the body may allow the soul to appear.
  2. J. G. Kiesewetter (1766-1819) wrote a textbook on logic which, translated into Russian, was used in Russian schools.
  3. I have here suggested "right" as the equivalent of "spravedlivo" in contrast with "correct" as the equivalent of "pravil'no" in the preceding sentence in order to try to catch the fine distinction between the two Russian words.  "Pravil'no" is usually applied in the context of matters of fact, for example, a statement is true or false; "spravedlivo" derives directly from "pravda," which, while it shares the same basic root with "pravil'no" has the particular senses of "justness, rightness, fairness" as well as the sense of "truth."  For example, in Russian to behave "pravil'no" would be to behave "correctly" (in accord with established conventions, the hallmark of Ivan Ilich's life as he has lived it) while to behave in a manner that is "spravedlivo" would be to do the "right" thing (in accord with some more primary principle of moral conduct, perhaps beyond the scope of the conventions defining everyday life).  It is thus suggested that the "correct" life may not, if fact, be the "right" life to lead.  It may be "wrong" to think of Ivan Ilich's strict conformity with convention as being life at all.
  4. Vanya is a nickname for Ivan,  Mitya and Volodya (nicknames for Dmitry and Vladimir) are most likely Ivan Ilich's two brothers; Katenka (nickname for Ekaterina) may be a sister not previously mentioned in the text.
  5. Here the notion of an "inner voice" and, by extension, an inner life, is mentioned in the text for the first time. If we follow the practice of paying close and exact attention to what is said we see that Ivan Ilich here seems to admit not only that there was no inner voice in him, but also no inner life. In fact, this inner voice will actually enter the text in Chapter Nine and will reappear in each chapter thereafter. At the very end, in Chapter Twelve, Ivan Ilich will himself seem to become that inner voice and inner life, and to view the agonized, dying remains of his body as though from a distance. However, at this point in the text, Chapter Six, the emphatic point seems to be that there is no such inner voice/inner life within Ivan Ilich, even though he is aware that he should have one. We might say that he and we have discovered that he has lost his inner life at the end of Chapter Six and that he regains it again at the end of Chapter Twelve. From this point of view, the novel seems to fall naturally into two main parts, in the first of which he gradually loses his inner, personal life in favor of his external, official life and in the second of which, through suffering and meditation occasioned by his illness, he gradually comes to acknowledge that loss and finally to regain his inner life. Simultaneously, however, the novel has been relating the same series of events from a strictly external viewpoint in which the inner life refers to no more than the kidneys and the intestines. This external story is related in three stages: Ivan Il'ich's former life, up to the onset of his illness(chapters two-four); the development of his illness (chapters five-eight); and his final agony and death (chapters nine-twelve). We might call the first stage "health," the second "illness," and the third "death." The first stage involves a period of years, the second a period of months, the last a period of days and hours. (More detail on this idea is given in the section in the "Introduction" called "The Proportions of the Text.")     It seems then that just as Ivan Il'ich has two distinct lives--an inner one and an outer one--so the story of those lives can be seen as being organized in two different ways at the same time: the external life story according to a three-part division of the material (health, illness, death) and the inner life story according to a two-part division. The two-part division shows us an Ivan Ilich who is already inwardly dead at the mid-point of the story, and one who has regained his inner life at the end.
  6. With remarkable consistency the text notes that Ivan Ilich believes that the thought of death is false and incorrect ("nepravil'naja"--not in conformity with convention; see note 3, above) and that it is "diseased." But it may none the less be true, and it may be his disease that is revealing this to him.
  7. The word "zaslon" in Russian is a military term designating a military force of some kind used to cover, protect, or shield the action of another force.
  8. The word "soznanie" ("consciousness") is of marked importance everywhere in Tolstoy's works.  It is usually associated with the authentic human center of his characters and is very often contrasted to the mechanical processes of mind ("um") and reason ("razum"). In various religious and philosophical writings produced about the same time as Death of Ivan Ilich Tolstoy devised the term "razumnoe soznanie" ("rational consciousness") to serve as one of the central pillars of his later thought, suggesting that "reason" (the adjective) was an aspect of, but subsidiary to, "consciousness" (the noun).  In general, in Tolstoy anything that interferes with the operation of consciousness is suspect to some degree.  One might well say that the tension between reason and consciousness is the mainspring of Tolstoy's art.
  9. Here the idea that Ivan Ilich considers his life at the office, his outer life, to be his real life is made explicit.  The resolve to get back to this life is implied to be just another screen to protect him from the consciousness (i.e., his inner life, his authentic life) of death.  The phrase "ja zhil eju" reminds one of the title, "Чем люди живы," ("What Do Men Live By"), the first of Tolstoy's "Stories for the People."
  10. Here is a brilliant example of Tolstoy's use of language in the novel.  The preceding sentence has twice used the word "delo":  first to mean "the facts of the case before the court as set down on paper" (in the phrase "podvigaja delo") and, second, to mean "the judicial proceedings related to that case" (in the phrase "nachinal delo").  There "delo" is established as meaning the object and activity at the center of Ivan Ilich's life in court ("delo" is the nominal equivalent of the verb "delat'"--"to do, make"; therefore "delo" would be, basically, anything that is done. In the following sentence "delo" appears again, but is now identified as the action of Ivan Ilich's "sucking" pain.  The pain of his illness is sucking away his life, but his life, as he has understood it, is also "delo."  This leads to the verbal paradox that the pain that Ivan Ilich experiences is the very same thing as the life that he has led, that it is his "life" which is sucking away his "life." The word "sosushchij" (present active participle from "sosat'," "to suck") often has the transferential meaning of "gnaw" or "nag."  As so often in the novel, underneath the conventional meaning of a word or phrase lies hidden its literal sense: the false official life of Ivan Ilich is sucking every vestige of his true life out of him.
  11. The italics mark this "it" as something different from the pain which was the referent of the "it" in the preceding clause; this it refers to a different feminine, singular noun: "smert'," ("death").
  12. Chapter Six continues the motif of imminent death introduced in Chapter Five. The chapter has been devoted to Ivan's ineluctable recognition of his death and to his unavailing efforts to hide   this recognition from himself by erecting various screens (again the motif of self-enclosure) to protect himself from this recognition. As he will say a few lines below: "I lost my life over that curtain. . . . It can't be true, but it is."
  13. Interestingly, it is just at the moment that Praskovya Fyodorovna tells Ivan Ilich that he will harm himself if he fusses with the albums that his awareness of death returns, as though she were unwittingly explaining to him that his fussy attachment to material ornaments and the artificial tidiness of his "pleasant and decorous" life is what is most harmful to him and, in fact, bringing him face to face with death.
  14. The last sentence of Chapter Six, translated literally, says: "Only to look at it [death] and grow cold." Maude's translation offers "except to look at it and shudder." While this is a correct translation, it fails to capture the rhetorical force of the original. In the Russian we see a further example of the use of words in both their metaphorical sense (on the surface) and their literal sense (hidden beneath the surface). The literal meaning of the word ('growing cold') is used to suggest the exterior action ('shuddering'). In this way the text manages to express simultaneously the ideas (1) that there are two sorts of "life" involved in what is happening to Ivan Ilich, an inner one and an outer one, and (2) that Ivan Ilich is only shuddering from a chill on the surface but, from the inner point of view, is dead already and growing cold, in the manner of a corpse.