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
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.