I read the last pages of The Death of Ivan Ilych with a skeptical feeling taking over, more and more intensely every line I read. After almost a semester of attempting to understand Tolstoy better, I feel that I can read into what he was getting at in his writing fairly easily. In the story of Ivan Ilych, the same themes that are present into his previous works appear: doctors are useless, society life goes hand in hand with falsity, and death is a chance for revival ( maybe? - I am questioning this still).
However, I just could not buy into this wonderful death of Ivan Ilych. I understand that Tolstoy tried to emphasize that the spiritual trumps the physical and unless one understands that, they are not able to die. Accepting death comes with an understanding that one is headed towards a better world, an acceptance of light and what comes next. Andrew went through this process when he died and now we see similar thought-processes in Ivan Ilych. It seems to me though, that Tolstoy is using a cliche statement about what death is supposed to mean and be like. It sort of feels like a cop-out. The ending of this story does not do justice to the Christian ideals ( which I believe are close to Tolstoy's ideas) where you need to lead a good, meaningful life to be able to walk into the light and it offers a simplistic, idealized view of death. While the pain and real sufferings of Ivan are painted in a grotesque light, his final revelation does not make any sense to me. I refuse to believe that death could be as plain as Tolstoy describes it.
One of my favorite Romanian novels ( Adam and Eve by Liviu Rebreanu) is made up of multiple stories that make up a larger story. It is based on the idea that one keeps reliving one's life until they meet and are able to be with their soulmate. It walks the reader through the ancient ages all the way to modern (WW2) Romania, where the protagonists meet, have a romantic encounter although they are engaged to other people and when death arrives for the man in the couple, this is a different kind of death, that leads him to a different universe. While this story is very romantic, the variety of deaths that we see in this books have nothing to do with final revelations and perfect endings achieved upon first attempt. It presumes that the soul learns through a variety of lives and is able to move towards the final light once it has an existence that satisfies the need for love - not after a life lived in falsity, with no meaning until 3 days before death.
I might be a little over Tolstoy's tendency to turn everything into a revelation, to connect everything to a higher meaning in near-death moments. What do you think? Are you satisfied with Ivan's death or is it too Tolstoyan?