The Death of Ivan Ilyich


Leo Tolstoy

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The Bruise Symbol Analysis

The Bruise Symbol Icon

The bruise Ivan gets while trying to hang curtains in his new apartment is a physical manifestation of the fact that his obsession with status and wealth is detrimental to his wellbeing. When he secures a new job in St. Petersburg and buys a fancy apartment, he becomes completely consumed by the process of decorating the family’s new abode. Focusing only on how the place looks, he tries to show a worker how to properly hang the drapes in the way that he thinks looks best, and as he does so, slips off a ladder and bangs his side against a knob on the window. This leaves a painful bruise that continues to hurt for a long time. However, Ivan denies the severity of this injury, which Tolstoy suggests is what ultimately leads to the illness that kills Ivan. Later, when Ivan’s condition gets worse, he curses that he has “lost [his] life” because of a measly curtain—a clear sign that he recognizes just how ridiculous it is that he has fixated throughout his life on such trivial matters, none of which matter once he falls ill. Accordingly, the bruise symbolizes the fact that Ivan has wasted his life chasing unimportant things that do nothing but keep him from attaining true contentment and even harm him as he moves through the world.

The Bruise Quotes in The Death of Ivan Ilyich

The The Death of Ivan Ilyich quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Bruise. 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 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:
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The Bruise Symbol Timeline in The Death of Ivan Ilyich

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bruise appears in The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Meaning and Mortality Theme Icon
Greed, Purity, and Corruption Theme Icon
Illness and Control Theme Icon
...falls and hits his side against the knob on the window frame, leaving a painful bruise. However, he brushes this injury off, telling Praskovya in a letter that he feels 15... (full context)
Greed, Purity, and Corruption Theme Icon
Illness and Control Theme Icon
...lucky he’s so athletic, since the accident could have killed a lesser man. Although the bruise still hurts, he says, it’s improving and is nothing to worry about. (full context)