The Assignment: PHI 106 at the University of Puget Sound, Take-Home Question #1
The Question: Tolstoy writes of Ivan Ilyich, "The doctor said his physical agony was dreadful, and that was true; bet even more dreaful was his moral agony, and it was this that tormented him most" (Tolstoy 126). In no more than one page, describe the nature and cause of Ivan Ilyich's moral agony.
Ivan Ilyich is a man devoid of a life of his own, and only through the onset of a painful death does he come to this realization. His whole life had been built around a structure in which everything was planned and expected, what he could not deal with was something so out of his control as death. At times when he should have gone with his own intuitions he instead chose to live in a way in which the rest of high society would approve. This conformist lifestyle leads him to the point where he attempts to drown out all the bad situations in his personal life by avoiding it. And because he fails to confront the problems in his personal life and instead resorts to working his relationships become more and more detached. What this produces is a void of any real connections to those closest to him. He treats everyone around him as clients in a courtroom and hence is left with clientele at his deathbed when what he really needed was people to comfort him. And instead of trying to remedy the situation he takes the exact wrong approach and blames them for his faults. Later, as he is dying, these same people who he has been accusing and then deliberately avoiding begin to condemn and desert him. This cycle leaves him feeling confused and depressed and only perpetuates his sorrow.
What he ultimately fails to realize is that in order to be truly happy you must confront and deal with the bad things in life and learn to take responsibility for your actions. Ivan had lived his life blaming all his problems on others yet when it came to his fatal disease there was no one but himself to hold responsible. And because he had never learned to deal with responsibility he was left with having to make excuses which turned everyone against him.