The story begins with the colleagues of Ivan Ilyich learning about the death of their friend. Then, the story suddenly switches to a flashback that encompasses most of Ivan Ilyich’s life. It shows many of the decisions he made, why he made them, and how those decisions played out in his life. His life became materialistic and lacked any sort of emotion in it. Then, a small incident brings about his untimely death. Toward the end of his life, he is forced to come to terms with a fact that death is inevitable.
When he accepts that, he sees that despite the fact that he lived his life the “proper” way in society, he had not had much of a life at all. Upon seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, he dies. Tolstoy gives a quick stab of satire, by making it painfully apparent that no one seems to care about Ivan Ilyich when he dies. Ilyich’s colleagues, upon hearing about his death, admit it is a shock, but they quickly turn their attention to this new opportunity for promotion.
Ivan Ilyich’s wife is not much different from the colleagues. She has very little interest in the fact that her husband is dead and cares more about her own misfortunes. I think Ivan was floundering because the flashback of Ilyich’s life begins with this line. “Ivan Ilyich’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible. ” Ivan Ilyich was caught up with just playing his role, no matter what that meant.
Ivan Ilyich was very good at his work, but as a court justice he had very little sympathy. He dehumanized the people and thought of them only as a case, nothing else. Formality was more important to him than any kind of human feeling. In a strange twist of what can only be called karma, Ivan’s doctors reduced his case to a question of what the cause of his illness was. They cared nothing about whether Ivan Ilyich lived or died, just as Ilyich never cared whether his cases were guilty or innocent.
In addition, I also think Ivan was floundering when he explains that he married because it was what society wanted, which is what his life was centered around. He admits that he did not really love her; he just thought it would be a suitable marriage. His home life continued to disintegrate, but he ignored it as always. He becomes obsessed with materialistic things. His focus was always on impressing society, not on the well-being of his family.