Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” impressed me significantly since he narrates the thoughts, feelings and experience of death so vividly, and more importantly, he reveals life wisdoms and society problems beneath Ivan’s death. It reminds me of Cao Xueqin’s words about what is a great work “a grasp of mundane affairs is genuine knowledge; understanding of worldly wisdom is true learning”. And this text by Tolstoy indeed is this kind of great work.
The story starts with the description of the death announcement, people’s reactions and funeral ceremony. What attracts my attention and makes me feel strange is people’s hypocrisy towards Ivan’s death. They seem sympathetic to his death, but they are pleased in their heart because of “the changes and promotions it might occasion among themselves or their acquaintances” (740). And this clue of people’s indifference attitude towards others’ death flow through till the end of story. Rarely anyone shows really pity for the sick people. People tend to care only about themselves, about their own feeling and living status. Indeed, it is people’s indifference, hypocrisy and lies that makes Ivan suffers more besides his physical pain. He feels loneliness and anger at others when they just ask him “how are you?” as a polite language rather than caring for him and learning from his feelings. Ivan says, “It’s all the same to them, but they will die too! Fools! I first, and they later, but it will be the same for them. And now they are merry… the beasts!” (762).
When it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, same thing and same logic happens. Even now it’s 2020, one hundred and forty years after 1880, the year when it is “the hardest year of Ivan Ilyich’s life” (751), people’s reaction and performance remain the same to some extent. Death in other countries is none of my business, death in other states has little to bother with me, death in my neighborhood happens, oh, fortunately it’s not me…When doctors and scientists are trying to invent new medicine and applies respirators on patients’ bodies, perhaps all these acts and treatment plans are not as useful as the companion and console from families and beloved ones. However, since this is an infectious disease, no companion is allowed. Thus, patients must suffer more from moral sides…
Also, the coronavirus just warns us that illness and sickness doesn’t recognize people’s wealth, status and name. Whoever you are, princes, prime ministers, or peasants and workers, it can attack everyone, and human beings are equally fragile just as Ivan is tied up by the horrible kidney disease—the disease still happens to him even though his is a respectable judge.