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*Paper #2: Your job for this essay
is to choose any writer from the texts beginning with the second book onward
& discuss characteristics of the writer’s work that classifies them and
their work as belonging to a specific literary movement (romanticism, realism,
modernism, postmodernism, etc.) . 5
pages including works cited page
minimum, 2 secondary sources minimum. Use your Norton text for direct quotes,
specific examples for supporting evidence. Be sure to cite parenthetically. The book’s name is The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volume DIf you don’t have the book, please go http://media.wwnorton.com/cms/contents/NAAL8_VD_TO… to check the contents and pick one writer and let me know, I’ll scan the book to you.
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*Paper #2: Your job for this essay is to choose any writer from the texts beginning with the second book
onward & discuss characteristics of the writer’s work that classifies them and their work as belonging to
a specific literary movement (romanticism, realism, modernism, postmodernism, etc.) . 5 pages
including works cited page minimum, 2 secondary sources minimum. Use your Norton text for direct
quotes, specific examples for supporting evidence. Be sure to cite parenthetically.
Realism of Tolstoy in “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”
Realism began in the early nineteenth century in Europe, but quickly spread
across the globe. It emerged as a response to the Romantics and focused on
portraying the world as truthfully as possible. Authors tried to represent the world
objectively and without sentimentality. They rejected nature as the answer to the social
issues of the times and decided to portray the world as it is. Because of this, they
moved their stories away from nature and into industrial cities. They did not shy away
from the gruesome, the lowlifes, the things once considered not good enough for art.
However, authors did not just focus on the shockingly unfortunate; they also focused on
the painfully ordinary. Therefore, the middle class, average citizen found a common
role in realists’ works. The strict, artificial language traditionally viewed as beautiful was
replaced with natural, believable dialogue interspersed with colloquialisms. Realist
authors generally looked to immediate, observable explanations to events, rather than
appealing to the supernatural or idealistic views. Realists also employed different
literary techniques including the novel, prose, and drama (instead of poetry) because
they allowed more freedom for dialogue and descriptions. Often, they used either first
person to observe the world through one character’s perspective, or they used an
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objective third person narrator. They were known for adding detailed descriptions of the
world around their characters. They generally approached their representations of
reality in one of two ways, either focusing on just a few individuals or trying to
encompass an entire nation.
In “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, Tolstoy employed the limited third person narrator
and focused on just two characters, Peter Ivanovich and Ivan Ilyich. In the first chapter,
the narrator is limited to Peter as he deals with Ivan’s death. In subsequent chapters,
the narrator switches and becomes limited to Ivan as we see what his life was like.
These characters are neither rich nor poor, but of the ordinary middle class. The
narrator generally conveys what each of these characters is thinking, but he also steps
back occasionally and objectively observes the situation. For instance, Ivan rambles
about how perfect, unique, and high-society his new home appears, but the narrator
observes “in reality it was just what is usually seen in the houses of people of moderate
means who want to appear rich, and therefore succeed only in resembling others like
themselves” (753).
“The Death of Ivan Ilyich” is anything but rosy as it navigates the social structure
of Ivan’s life. On the very first page, Ivan’s closest friend reacts to his death by first
thinking about the promotions he may gain and that he could transfer his brother in law
to the newly vacant position so that his wife cannot complain that he “never does
anything for her relations” (741). Next, Peter attends Ivan’s funeral service, and rather
than being concerned with the sorrow of Ivan’s widow or his own grief at losing a friend,
he is only concerned with behaving in a socially acceptable manner. He looks around
to see if he should cross himself, say something while doing so, and/or bow. He then
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stays only as long as social etiquette requires. Additionally, Ivan’s widow, while at the
funeral service, becomes very concerned with the cost of the grave plot and excuses
herself in order to negotiate a better price. Tolstoy often focuses on money as a driver
of people’s actions. When Ivan is faced with the prospect of being transferred to a
former location, he is willing to forgive his old enemies and his grievances against the
department because of a pay raise. It shows the obsession with money and
possessions, and a lack of conviction (James). The servant, Gerasim, appears to be
the only character worthy of praise and admiration. He cares for Ivan once he becomes
bedridden “easily, willingly, simply, and with a good nature that touched Ivan Ilyich”
(766) and the narrator describes him as having a “fresh, kind, simple young face” (765).
He is the only person with whom Ivan finds comfort.
Tolstoy did not try to sugar-coat Ivan’s death; he stretched it out over half of the
story. The last chapter describes the ultimate suffering Ivan experiences. He screams
from pain and the immediacy of his death for three days. Ivan struggles with death like
a “black sack into which he was being thrust by an invisible, resistless force” (777). The
reader also rides the psychological roller coaster Ivan experiences as he faces his
impending death. Considering this was written about 100 years before the five stages
of grief were first published, Tolstoy did an impressive job of realistically portraying the
process of accepting the inevitability of one’s own demise. At first Ivan tries to ignore
the sickness and then insist he is just sick, and not dying. He eventually realizes “it’s
not a question of appendix or kidney, but of life and…death. Yes, life was there and now
it is going, going and I cannot stop it… Why deceive myself?” (762). Within a few lines
he has moved onto anger as the narrator observes: “anger choked him and he was
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agonizingly, unbearably miserable” (762). He also becomes angry at the deception he
is forced to take part in because people close to him do not want to say he is dying nor
hear him say he is dying. He tries to bargain by trying to get back to normal by going
back to work. He then sinks into despair and depression as his condition becomes
worse. He feels as if “a sea of despair rages” (768) within him. He is in constant pain
and food loses its appeal, a classic sign of depression. Finally, on the last page of the
story, he realizes he pities his family and forgives them and himself, allowing him to
accept his death.
Tolstoy includes detailed descriptions of the characters’ surroundings. For
example, when Ivan is looking for a new home for his family to move into after he is
transferred jobs, Tolstoy takes half a page to describe the perfect house Ivan found and
how he was going to perfect it further. “Spacious, lofty reception rooms in the old style,
a convenient and dignified study, rooms for his wife and daughter, a study for his son- it
might have been specially built for them,” (753) begins the description from Ivan’s
perspective. He continues to describe how he will decorate it with antique furniture and
contemplates “whether he should have straight or curved cornices for his curtains”
(753).
Tolstoy also incorporates dialect of his characters. For example, he often depicts
the characters speaking French, despite their being Russian, because this is what
educated, well-to-do Russians would do in the time period (Smith 33). At Ivan’s funeral
service his widow speaks French to his friend, Peter. Also, during the rest of the story,
Ivan thinks certain phrases in French, such as “il faut que jeunesse se passe” (747) to
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describe his shenanigans as a young man and the phrase “comme il faut” (748) to
describe proper things.
Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” is a classic example of a realist work of
literature. Throughout the work, Tolstoy employs classic elements of the style. From the
objective, limited third person narrator and the focus on the middle class, to the honesty
with which Tolstoy describes death and the believable dialogue, “The Death of Ivan
Ilyich” has many characteristics of traditional realist works.
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Works Cited
Tolstoy, Leo. “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature:
Volume E. Ed. Martin Puchner. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. 735778. Print.
Smith, Leonard. “Realism in Tolstoy’s Later Works”. American Literary Studies 22.2.
July 22, 2014. Web. October 1, 2014.
James, Michelle. “Where Have All The Heroes Gone?”. The Atlantic. 55.7. January 15,
2012. Web. October 1, 2014.

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