The Death of Ivan Ilyich

by

Leo Tolstoy

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Ivan Ilyich Golovin Character Analysis

Ivan Ilyich is a 45-year-old prosecutor, and the novella’s protagonist. Ivan is from a respected family and starts studying law at a young age. While learning, he feels that the lavish lifestyle he’s embarking upon is reprehensible and ugly, but he sees that his superiors have no qualms with the matters that bother him, so he stops worrying about whether or not he’s leading a good life. Instead, he focuses on advancing his career, becoming the assistant to the governor and, later, an examining magistrate. Before long, he marries a beautiful young woman named Praskovya, and their marriage is good until they start having children, which is when they begin to fight. To mitigate his bitter feelings, Ivan distracts himself by ignoring his troubles and concentrating on his career, eventually rising to a powerful position despite several setbacks. Meanwhile, several of their children die, but this doesn’t stop Ivan and Praskovya from continuing to grow their family, though Ivan remains detached from his loved ones. While decorating a new apartment one day, he bangs his side and develops a bruise, but he writes it off as nothing. Still, his side continues to hurt, and he starts experiencing a strange taste in his mouth, so he visits a doctor. Feeling challenged by the doctor’s authority, he seeks second and third opinions, but nothing anyone says decreases his pain. In fact, his symptoms become quite severe, and he soon stops leaving bed as his illness worsens. During this time, Praskovya and his daughter, Liza, continue to lead extravagantly social lives, which Ivan deeply resents. In the final weeks of Ivan’s life, his only relief comes when he interacts with his young servant, Gerasim, whom he sees as innocent and pure in comparison to Praskovya and Liza. He also appreciates the beauty of his young son, Vasya. On the day of Ivan’s death, he can’t stop screaming until he looks at Vasya and realizes that his prolonged suffering is hurting the young boy and everyone else, at which point Ivan asks for forgiveness, sees death turn into “light,” and dies.

Ivan Ilyich Golovin Quotes in The Death of Ivan Ilyich

The The Death of Ivan Ilyich quotes below are all either spoken by Ivan Ilyich Golovin or refer to Ivan Ilyich Golovin. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Meaning and Mortality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Death of Ivan Ilyich published in 2008.
Chapter 1 Quotes

So, the first thought that occurred to each of the assembled gentlemen on hearing the news of his death was how this death might affect his own prospects, and those of their acquaintances, for transfer or promotion.

‘I’m sure to get Shtabel’s job now, or Vinnikov’s,’ thought Fyodor Vasilyevich. ‘They promised me ages ago, and a promotion like that would give me another eight hundred roubles a year, plus expenses.’

‘I must apply to have my brother-in-law transferred from Kaluga,’ thought Pyotr Ivanovich. ‘My wife will be delighted. She won’t be able to tell me I never do anything for her people.’

‘I had a feeling he wasn’t going to get better,’ said Pyotr Ivanovich. ‘It’s sad.’

Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

Apart from the speculations aroused in each of them by this death, concerning the transfers and possible changes that this death might bring about, the very fact of the death of someone close to them aroused in all who heard about it, as always, a feeling of delight that he had died and they hadn’t.

‘There you have it. He’s dead, and I’m not’ was what everyone thought or felt.

Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

Pyotr Ivanovich entered the room, and hesitated, as people always do on these occasions, not knowing precisely what to do. The only thing he was certain of was that in this situation you couldn’t go wrong if you made the sign of the cross. Whether or not you should bow at the same time he wasn’t sure, so he went for a compromise, crossing himself as he walked in and giving a bit of a bow as he did so. At the same time, as far as hand and head movements permitted, he glanced round the room.

Related Characters: Ivan Ilyich Golovin, Pyotr Ivanovich
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

He had changed a good deal; he was even thinner than he had been when Pyotr Ivanovich had last seen him, but, as with all dead bodies, his face had acquired greater beauty, or, more to the point, greater significance, than it had had in life. Its expression seemed to say that what needed to be done had been done, and done properly. More than that, the expression contained a reproach, or at least a reminder, to the living. The reminder seemed out of place to Pyotr Ivanovich, or at least he felt it didn’t apply to him personally.

Related Characters: Ivan Ilyich Golovin, Pyotr Ivanovich
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

‘Three days and three nights of horrible suffering, and then death. Just think, it could happen to me any time, now,’ he thought, and he felt that momentary pang of fear. But immediately he was saved, without knowing how, by the old familiar idea that this had happened to Ivan Ilyich, not him, and it could not and would not happen to him, and that kind of thinking would put him in a gloomy mood, for which there was no need, as Schwartz’s face had clearly demonstrated. Pursuing this line of thought, Pyotr Ivanovich calmed down and began to show a close interest in the details of Ivan Ilyich’s death, as if death was a chance experience that may have applied to Ivan Ilyich but certainly didn’t apply to him.

Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

In his student days he had done things that at first he thought of as utterly revolting, things that made him feel disgusted with himself even as he was doing them, but in later life, noticing that the same things were being done by people of high standing without a qualm, although he couldn’t quite bring himself to think they were good, he did manage to dismiss them, and he felt no pangs of remorse when he recalled them.

Related Characters: Ivan Ilyich Golovin
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

Far from abusing this power, he did his best to play it down, but his consciousness of that power and the very chance to play it down were what gave his new job its interest and appeal. In the work itself, the process of investigation, Ivan Ilyich soon mastered the technique of distancing himself from all irrelevancies and reducing the most complicated cases to a version that could be set down on paper in objective outline, excluding any personal opinion on his part, while observing all the necessary formalities, which was what mattered most.

Related Characters: Ivan Ilyich Golovin
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

He realized that married life—at least with his wife—didn’t always mean enjoyment and decency, but, on the contrary, it often disrupted them, and it was therefore necessary to guard against such disruptions. And Ivan Ilyich began to seek ways of doing this. His work was the one thing that impressed Praskovya, and it was through work and the commitments associated with it that he took on his wife and asserted his own independence.

Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

In court he found his mind wandering; he would be miles away, wondering whether to have plain or moulded cornices with his curtains. He became so involved that he often did the work himself, rearranging the furniture and rehanging the curtains. On one occasion, climbing a stepladder to show a dull-witted upholsterer how to hang the draperies, he slipped and fell, though he was strong and agile enough to hold on, and all he did was bump his side on a window-frame knob. The bruised place hurt for a while but it soon passed off. And all this time Ivan Ilyich felt particularly well and in the best of spirits. ‘I seem to have shed fifteen years,’ he wrote home.

Related Symbols: The Bruise
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

The whole thing turned out just as he had expected […]. He was made to wait, the doctor was full of his own importance—an attitude he was familiar with because it was one that he himself assumed in court—then came all the tapping and listening, the questions with predetermined and obviously superfluous answers, the knowing look that seemed to say, ‘Just place yourself in our hands and we’ll sort it out, we know what we’re doing, there’s no doubt about it. We can sort things out the same way as we would for anyone you care to name.’ It was just like being in court. The way he looked at the accused in court was exactly the way he was being looked at now by the famous doctor.

Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

The doctor glared at him through one eye over his glasses as if to say, ‘Prisoner in the dock, if you will not confine yourself to answering the questions put to you I shall have to arrange for you to be removed from the courtroom.’

‘I have already told you what I consider necessary and appropriate. Anything further will be determined by the tests.’ The doctor bowed.

Related Characters: Mikhail Danilovich (the Doctor) (speaker), Ivan Ilyich Golovin
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

Absorption; the blind gut was curing itself. Then suddenly he could feel the same old dull gnawing pain, quiet, serious, unrelenting. The same nasty taste in his mouth. His heart sank and his head swam. ‘O God! O God!’ he muttered. ‘It’s here again, and it’s not going away.’ And suddenly he saw things from a completely different angle. ‘The blind gut! The kidney!’ he said to himself. ‘It’s got nothing to do with the blind gut or the kidney. It’s a matter of living or…dying. Yes, I have been alive, and now my life is steadily going away and I can’t stop it. No. There’s no point in fooling myself. Can’t they all see—everybody but me—that I’m dying? It’s only a matter of weeks, or days—maybe any minute now. There has been daylight; now there is darkness. I have been here; now I’m going there. Where?’

Related Characters: Ivan Ilyich Golovin (speaker), Mikhail Danilovich (the Doctor)
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

All his life the syllogism he had learned from Kiesewetter’s logic—Julius Caesar is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caesar is mortal—had always seemed to him to be true only when it applied to Caesar, certainly not to him. There was Caesar the man, and man in general, and it was fair enough for them, but he wasn’t Caesar the man and he wasn’t man in general, he had always been a special being, totally different from all others, he had been Vanya with his mama and his papa, […] with all the delights, sorrows and rapture of childhood, boyhood and youth. Did Caesar have anything to do with the smell of that little striped leather ball that Vanya had loved so much? Was it Caesar who had kissed his mother’s hand like that, and was it for Caesar that the silken folds of his mother’s dress had rustled the way they did?

Related Characters: Ivan Ilyich Golovin
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

But then suddenly there it was, the pain in his side, irrespective of where they had got to in the proceedings, and it was beginning to gnaw at him. Ivan Ilyich focused on it, drove the thought of it away, but it continued to make itself felt. It kept coming back, facing him and looking at him, while he sat there rigid, the fire went out of his eyes and he began to wonder whether It was the only truth. And his colleagues and subordinates looked on in distress, amazed that he, a man of such brilliant and subtle judgement, was getting confused and making mistakes.

Related Characters: Ivan Ilyich Golovin
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

He could see that the awful, terrible act of his dying had been reduced by those around him to the level of an unpleasant incident, something rather indecent (as if they were dealing with someone who had come into the drawing-room and let off a bad smell), and this was done by exploiting the very sense of ‘decency’ that he had been observing all his life. He could see that no one had any pity for him because no one had the slightest desire to understand his situation.

Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

He waited only for Gerasim to go out into the next room, and then he could restrain himself no longer: he burst into tears like a child. He was weeping because of his own helpless state, and his loneliness, and other people’s cruelty, and God’s cruelty, and God’s non-existence.

‘Why hast Thou done all of this? Why hast Thou brought me to this point? Why oh why dost Thou torture me like this?...’

He was not expecting any answers; he was weeping because there were not and could not be any answers.

Related Characters: Ivan Ilyich Golovin (speaker), Gerasim
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

But what was strange was that all the best times of his happy life no longer seemed anything like what they had been before. Nothing did—except the first recollections of his childhood. There, in his childhood, there was something truly happy that he could have lived with if it returned. But the person living out that happiness no longer existed; it was like remembering someone quite different.

At the point where he, today’s Ivan Ilyich, began to emerge, all the pleasures that had seemed so real melted away now before his eyes and turned into something trivial and often disgusting.

Related Characters: Ivan Ilyich Golovin
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

‘What is this? Can it really be death?’ And an inner voice would reply, ‘Yes, that’s what it is.’ ‘What is this torture for?’ And the voice would reply, ‘It’s just there. It’s not for anything.’ Above and beyond this there was nothing.

Related Characters: Ivan Ilyich Golovin (speaker)
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

It occurred to him that what had once seemed a total impossibility—that he had not lived his life as he should have done—might actually be true. It occurred to him that the slight stirrings of doubt he had experienced about what was considered good by those in the highest positions, slight stirrings that he had immediately repudiated—that these misgivings might have been true and everything else might have been wrong. His career, the ordering of his life, his family, the things that preoccupied people in society and at work—all of this might have been wrong. He made an attempt at defending these things for himself. And suddenly he sensed the feebleness of what he was defending. There was nothing to defend.

Related Characters: Ivan Ilyich Golovin
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

‘Yes, I’m hurting them,’ he thought. ‘They feel sorry for me, but they’ll be all right when I’m dead.’ He wanted to tell them this, but he wasn’t strong enough to get the words out. ‘Anyway…no good talking. Must do something.’ He looked at his wife, motioned to their son and said: ‘Take him away…sorry for him… and you…’ He tried to say, ‘Forgive me,’ but it came out as, ‘For goodness…’ Too weak to correct himself, he waved his hand knowing that he who needed to would understand.

Related Characters: Ivan Ilyich Golovin (speaker), Praskovya Fyodorovna Golovina, Vasya
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ivan Ilyich Golovin Character Timeline in The Death of Ivan Ilyich

The timeline below shows where the character Ivan Ilyich Golovin appears in The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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In a courthouse, Ivan Yegorovich Shebek and Fyodor Vasilyevich argue about a case while Pyotr Ivanovich—another judge—reads the newspaper.... (full context)
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Immediately after hearing the news of Ivan Ilyich’s death, Fyodor Vasilyevich thinks about how he’ll most likely move into someone else’s job... (full context)
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As Pyotr Ivanovich and his colleagues discuss Ivan Ilyich’s death, they find themselves overwhelmingly relieved that they weren’t... (full context)
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Of all Ivan’s colleagues, Pyotr Ivanovich was his closest friend. After dinner that night, Pyotr regretfully sets out... (full context)
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Pyotr Ivanovich hesitantly enters the room that contains the coffin. As he steps inside, he awkwardly crosses... (full context)
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Crossing himself once more, Pyotr Ivanovich hurries out of the room. Again, he sees Schwartz, who is waiting for him in... (full context)
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...Praskovya intercepts him and leads him into the sitting room to have a discussion about Ivan Ilyich’s death. On his way, Pyotr looks sheepishly at Schwartz, whose freedom to leave he... (full context)
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...assistance. As soon as she sees that Pyotr won’t help her wring money out of Ivan’s death, Praskovya makes it clear that she has no interest in talking to him, so... (full context)
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Pyotr Ivanovich sees Ivan’s adult daughter, Liza, who nods at him in a way that makes him... (full context)
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Pyotr Ivanovich refuses to look at Ivan Ilyich’s body during the ceremony and leaves as soon as... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Ivan Ilyich dies at the age of 45, a respected judge on the Court of Justice.... (full context)
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After graduating from law school, Ivan becomes an assistant to the governor and moves to one of the provinces surrounding St.... (full context)
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After five years as the governor’s assistant, Ivan starts a new job as an examining magistrate in the courts. This requires him to... (full context)
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While making friends in high society, Ivan starts playing whist, enjoying the card game along with his increased salary and burgeoning reputation.... (full context)
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Praskovya and Ivan get married, and at first everything is wonderful. The presents, the furniture, the romance—they all... (full context)
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Praskovya and Ivan have other children, and their strained relational dynamic continues. After seven years, Ivan is transferred... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Seventeen years after his wedding, Ivan is a senior public prosecutor. In the seven years since moving to a new province,... (full context)
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On the train from the countryside to St. Petersburg, Ivan sits next to a colleague who tells him that the entire ministry is about to... (full context)
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Ivan goes to St. Petersburg before the rest of his family in order to begin his... (full context)
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When Praskovya and the children finally come to St. Petersburg, Ivan proudly takes them from room to room and shows them how he’s decorated the apartment.... (full context)
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Ivan and Praskovya are happy in their new life, though they find that they still don’t... (full context)
Chapter 4
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As life goes on, Ivan experiences an occasional pain in his side and an odd taste in his mouth. However,... (full context)
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Ivan agrees to visit a doctor, though he dislikes the idea. Just as he feared, the... (full context)
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The way the doctor looked at Ivan when he asked if he might die haunts Ivan on his way home. He feels... (full context)
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Ivan’s medicinal regimen changes after his test results come back, but nothing seems to make him... (full context)
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Ivan’s illness gets worse and worse, even as he tries to convince himself that he’s getting... (full context)
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What bothers Ivan the most is that Praskovya and Liza hardly seem to care about his illness. They... (full context)
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At work, Ivan senses his colleagues treating him differently because of his condition, and this frustrates him. In... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Several months later, Ivan’s brother-in-law comes for a visit. Upon setting eyes on Ivan, he can’t disguise his horror,... (full context)
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Listening in on a conversation between Praskovya and his brother-in-law, Ivan hears his brother-in-law call him a “dead man,” though Praskovya insists that her brother is... (full context)
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Lying on his bed, Ivan takes his medicine and thinks about the doctor’s advice to simply follow his regimen. As... (full context)
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Ivan jumps up to light a candle but drops it on the floor and collapses once... (full context)
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Having heard him drop the candle, Praskovya enters Ivan’s room and asks him what’s wrong. He tells her that he simply dropped something and... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Ivan is certain that he’s dying. Not only does this depress him, but it confounds him,... (full context)
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Despite these preconceptions, Ivan knows he’s on his way toward death, and this causes him to wonder about the... (full context)
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Finding no relief in his work, Ivan sometimes enters the drawing room (where he first hurt himself) and tinkers with the various... (full context)
Chapter 7
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As time passes, everyone in Ivan’s life understands that the only question regarding his death is how long it will take.... (full context)
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When Gerasim is cleaning up after Ivan one day, Ivan acknowledges that this must not be very pleasant for him. However, Gerasim... (full context)
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What Ivan hates most about his condition is that everyone around him pretends that he’ll recover. Ivan,... (full context)
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In addition to thinking that everyone is lying to him, Ivan senses that the people around him see him as a burden. Believing that his doctors... (full context)
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Privately, Ivan wants people to treat him like a small, ailing child. He knows that this would... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Bedbound, Ivan now only marks the days according to when Gerasim enters and exits his room. His... (full context)
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Having warmed his hands, the doctor begins to examine Ivan. As he does so, Ivan thinks about how ridiculously futile this process is, knowing that... (full context)
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When the doctor finishes his examination, Praskovya tells Ivan that she arranged for yet another doctor to come see him. When he protests, she... (full context)
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Ivan’s newfound optimism doesn’t last long, as his pain returns and nothing about his situation seems... (full context)
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As Ivan’s family makes small talk about the opera, Ivan hardly participates. At one point, Petrishchev stops... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Late that night, Ivan has terrible dreams, and his pain consumes him. Gerasim has been with him for the... (full context)
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Ivan knows he won’t receive an answer to his questions. When his pain comes in a... (full context)
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Looking back on his life, Ivan decides that he was happy when he was in law school and had friends. He... (full context)
Chapter 10
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After two more weeks, Ivan still hasn’t figured out the reason for his suffering. When he asks the voice deep... (full context)
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Reflecting upon his illness, Ivan realizes he has been grasping for hope ever since he learned that he was unwell.... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...two weeks pass. During this time, Petrishchev finally proposes to Liza, but when Praskovya enters Ivan’s room to tell him the good news, she discovers that his condition has become even... (full context)
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Ivan’s doctor comes, but Ivan tells him to go away, saying that everyone knows there’s nothing... (full context)
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As Ivan looks at Praskovya and Liza, he begins to hate them for representing everything negative about... (full context)
Chapter 12
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After Ivan yells at Praskovya, he falls into a constant scream, one that lasts for the final... (full context)
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As Ivan continues to yell, he swings his arms around and accidentally brushes Vasya, who has snuck... (full context)
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Ivan recognizes that his family members pity him and that they’re hurt by his suffering. However,... (full context)
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All of a sudden, Ivan finds clarity, realizing that whatever has been agonizing him is leaving him. He wonders where... (full context)