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

Chapter 7





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  1. Thus, Chapter Seven begins by re-emphasizing the conclusion which, as noted above, emerges from Chapter Six: that Ivan Ilich is already as good as dead, that he is essentially dead and is only awaiting formal removal from the scene.
  2. No sooner does the text make it clear that Ivan Ilich is virtually dead already, and so beyond help or comfort, than it presents the first of several consolations and remissions of his agony. The servant Gerasim, a young, healthy, and energetic figure, is assigned to assist Ivan Ilich by cleaning up after evacuation. Surprisingly enough, the health and vitality of this young man do not anger Ivan Ilich (unlike the health and vitality of his daughter and her fiancé), but brings him comfort instead. In particular, Ivan Ilich places a high value on Gerasim's truthfulness and ability to acknowledge that his master is not simply ill, but is actually dying. Gerasim's relationship to Ivan Ilich is simple and direct. He acknowledges the terminal nature of Ivan Ilich's illness without pretense and is willing to spend long periods of time patiently helping his master to feel better. Gerasim had first appeared in Chapter One. There he had made Peter Ivanovich feel uncomfortable by reminding him that we will all die one day. Finally, the fact that a genuine comfort emerges from "this most unpleasant matter" prepares the way for the idea that something good for Ivan Ilich may also come from the most unpleasant matter of all--his terminal illness.
  3. The "-s" is short for "sudar'" ("sir") or "sudarinja" (ma'am).
  4. Gerasim's value to Ivan Ilich is based upon two primary factors: Gerasim's truthfulness (and the salutary contrast between his truthfulness and candor, on one side, and the lying (Russ. 'lozh'') and convention of his wife, doctors, and acquaintances on the other) and his willingness to spend long periods in intimate contact with Ivan Ilich. This intimacy is emphatically physical; it involves helping Ivan Ilich with his processes of bodily elimination and also sitting with him in such a manner that Ivan Ilich can place his heels on Gerasim's shoulders. The relationship with Gerasim is the first example of physical touching which is explicitly represented (as opposed to being merely reported) in Ivan Ilich's life story. In the main Ivan Ilich has striven to cut himself off from other people. It has also been noted that the position in which Ivan Ilich feels better is not dissimilar to the position in which women are placed in the process of giving birth. Thus, chapter seven's antidote to the funereal gloom of chapter six goes so far as to suggest the motif of birth to counter the motif of death, thereby introducing the possibility of rebirth into Ivan Ilich's story.
  5. The verb "lechit'sja" means "to be cured, healed; to follow a prescribed medical regimen"; etymologically, as a reflexive verb, it means "to cure oneself."  Thus, it provides yet one more example of the novel's device of using the underlying, literal meaning of words or phrases to suggest the reverse significance attached to the surface level of the text.  It is indeed the case, as Ivan Ilich eventually discovers, that recovery from that illness of the spirit which is his most basic problem is possible only through his own efforts.  He can, in fact (the novel suggests), heal himself through recognition of the wrongness of the idea that the life he has led is his true and authentic life.  If he does heal himself in this way, something very good will indeed emerge.
  6. The rather unconventional use of the prepositional phrase "nad + instrumental case" (lit., "above, over" something or someone) as the complement to the verbs "lgat'" ("to (tell a) lie") and "peredelyvat'" ("to do, perform") conveys the idea that people maintain the fiction that Ivan Ilich is merely ill rather than dying when they are in his presence.  To express this, however, as the text does here (lit., to lie, to do their tricks "above him") suggests that he is in a sense already dead, stretched out below them, as though he already were insensible of their presence. This, in turn, suggests that their lying and pretense is undertaken not  so much to spare the feelings of Ivan Ilich, but to comfort themselves.
  7. The conventional meaning of the phrase "ne imel dukha" ("lacked the energy, the strength") is supplemented by the basic meaning of "dukh," "spirit": Ivan Ilich's true and authentic life in the spirit had virtually disappeared after so many years of neglect and indifference as he pursued success in the false and artificial life of his home and office.
  8. From this point on the text makes it increasingly explicit that the spiritual pain of enduring the falseness and deception--the lies--with which he is surrounded and in which he participates is greater than the physical pain of his illness. One gets the sense that it is this moral pain which abates when he is in the company of Gerasim. As the next chapter will make clear, however, the pain returns in full force (both physically and morally) in Gerasim's absence. Only Gerasim is able to tell Ivan Ilich directly that he is dying. Only Gerasim seems capable of coming close to Ivan Ilich, where "close" implies honesty, physical touch, and even the (highly inappropriate!) linguistic closeness of Gerasim's using the second-person singular, familiar, form of address in speaking to his master. The lie (Russ. "lozh'") from this point on begins more and more to replace the physical illness from which Ivan Ilich suffers; the lie, so to say, now becomes his illness.
  9. The Court of Cassation is the highest appellate court in some legal systems.


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