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

Chapter 9


[2]  [3]





  1. This is the first mention of the image of a narrow, black sack or bag or hole into which Ivan Ilich feels himself being pushed. The image has played an important role in interpretations of the novel which emphasize that Ivan Ilich, led by his sufferings, becomes spiritually reborn as his physical life ebbs away. The black bag, by its shape and its color and the fact that when, in chapter twelve, Ivan Ilich feels that he has broken through the end of the bag into the light, has been seen as an effective symbol of the birth canal. Likewise, the trauma of birth seems well matched with the trauma of Ivan Ilich's suffering and death. This interpretation, of course, fits very well with the concept that the novel privileges the method of "understanding in reverse." It seems quite natural in this context that the image of death should be tautologous with an image of life and also that Ivan Ilich's attitude toward this image should be ambiguous: "he struggled, yet co-operated."
  2. Here is another allusion to the narrative of Christ's Passion as contained in the Gospels, specifically to Jesus' outcry "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46 inter alia).
  3. Here, as in the preceding sentence, Ivan Ilich uses the form of the pronoun "you" which is employed when speaking to very close friends and family members, and also, not incidentally, when speaking to God in prayer.  "What did I to you" might well be rendered (as the Maude translation does) "What have I done to Thee"?
  4. Here is the first explicit indication that Ivan Ilich does indeed have a soul, that he is more than the physiological being which is suffering so dreadfully from the effects of disease. We remember that in Chapter Five his "inner life" was still completely a question of the physical organs located within his body. Here the inner life and voice represent a qualitatively different kind of life. Ivan Ilich's attention has finally been redirected from his physical life and sufferings to his spiritual life and sufferings. We note that since chapter seven it has seemed to him that his spiritual suffering has in fact been greater than his physical pain. At the end of Chapter Nine the thought occurs to him that "Maybe I didn't live as I ought to have done," that is, that he is where he is by his own actions and responsibility. This thought, and the conclusion arising from it, is repeated yet again in each of the three remaining chapters.
  5. "Sleduet" is a form of the verb "sledovat'" ("to follow"). It is used here in its conventional sense as an impersonal synonym of  the personal construction of necessity, "dolzhen + infinitive, in the meaning "as I was supposed to," "as I should have."  But the expression also suggests its literal sense of "following."  Ivan Ilich is confident that his life could not have been "ne tak" (lit., "not so" but often suggesting "wrong, improper") because he has always behaved as he has in emulation of, following in the footsteps of, his betters and peers in society.
  6. The word "sud" can mean "court" in the sense of the judge(s) charged with superintending a trial and it can also mean the trial itself or the result of the trial, the judgement that is rendered by the court.  This latter meaning is exemplified in the Russian religious phrase "Strashnyj sud," what in English is called "the Last Judgement" or "Judgement Day."