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Shvoong Home>Books>The Death of Ivan Ilych Review

The Death of Ivan Ilych

Book Review   by:Lyss     Original Author: Leo Tolstoy
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In “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy, the main character, Ivan, leads a life of physical pain due to his interior mental anguish. He experiences severe bodily symptoms because of his state of mental distress, yet never discovers the source of his torture is essentially internal. Sigmund Freud’s theory of the “unconscious mind” describes how repression and resistance of an agonizing idea can be expressed through excruciating bodily symptoms. He recognized the body “acted out” with external pain, and focused on curing the cause of the problem through psychoanalysis, not just healing the outward symptom. The first era of Ivan’s life is lived happily with abundant contentment, but in his young adulthood he succumbs to the societal pressure of marriage. He weds a woman named Praskovya who claims to have fallen in love with him, despite his lack of reciprocated passion. Ivan is indifferent toward the wedding and his new wife, not particularly thrilled but not downtrodden either. As marriage becomes a way of life for Ivan, he begins to see an unpleasant side of Praskovya, but realizes he is trapped into his marriage for the rest of his life. Searching for an alternative source of happiness, he focuses the greater part of his existence on his career, removing himself from the distasteful situation that has consumed his life.
The turning point of the story comes when he accidentally bumps his side on the knob of a window frame. From this point on Ivan experiences increasingly horrendous painful episodes that mount in extremity, as he grows older and more discontent with is family life. Unbearable aches intoxicate his body, extending throughout his chest and rendering him incapacitated at times, usually accompanied by a bad taste in his mouth, and irate irritability. In “Studies on Hysteria,” Freud reveals the key to overcoming bodily pain is consciously experiencing the emotion of a repressed memory, and verbalizing the realization. By confronting internal painful thoughts through conscious articulation, a person is able to overcome their “traumatic moment” and ameliorate physical symptoms. Ivan Ilyich’s unconscious source of grief manifested itself as physical pain, endlessly torturing him. Had he recognized his pain was due to misery regarding family life, his unconscious would have been alleviated of this repressed resentment.
Published: May 04, 2006   
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