Respice finem, the Latin inscription that Ivan Ilyich has stitched onto his expensive luggage, represents his cognitive dissonance about his mortality. The phrase reminds him of the fact that life will not last forever, which is rather obvious since the phrase itself means “consider the end.” However, the inscription itself takes on a somewhat ironic meaning, since Ivan is actually quite incapable or unwilling to think about the end of his life. Although he has these words stitched onto his new suitcases, he fails to come to terms with the overall message, meaning that his decision to have this embroidered on his luggage is nothing more than a shallow attempt to seem wise. In the same way that Ivan understands that all humans will die yet doesn’t accept that he will die, he has Respice finem printed on his luggage without coming to terms with the idea it embodies. In turn, the phrase comes to represent the ways in which he refuses to admit the inevitability of his own death even as he accepts the abstract idea that nobody is immortal.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Respice Finem appears in The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...he leaves, he buys expensive clothing and beautiful luggage, upon which he has the words Respice finem embroidered. Once he arrives in the provinces, he excels at his job, becoming reserved and... (full context)