The Death of Ivan Ilyich

by

Leo Tolstoy

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Whist Symbol Icon

Because whist—the card game that Ivan and his friends play—serves as a distraction that briefly helps Ivan ignore his illness, it stands for the shallow, materialistic concerns that people like Ivan tend to gravitate toward in order to distract themselves from their own discontent. Ivan takes great joy in gambling, relishing his ability to best his opponents. When he becomes sick, he continues to play for as long as he can, treating it like his work, at least insofar as both whist and his job give him something to focus on other than his various hardships. Similarly, Pyotr Ivanovich rushes out of Ivan’s funeral to play a game of whist, clearly eager to stop thinking about death. As a result, the card game becomes a symbol for the denial that the characters in this novella experience, as they turn to petty gambling to avoid having to think about whatever is bothering them.

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Whist Symbol Timeline in The Death of Ivan Ilyich

The timeline below shows where the symbol Whist appears in The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Empathy vs. Resentment Theme Icon
Greed, Purity, and Corruption Theme Icon
...himself communicates that Ivan’s death will not keep him from organizing the routine game of whist that he, Pyotr, and some other friends had planned on playing that night. Furthermore, Pyotr... (full context)
Meaning and Mortality Theme Icon
Greed, Purity, and Corruption Theme Icon
...hastily makes his way to Fyodor Vasilyevich’s house, where he spends a pleasant evening playing whist with his friends. (full context)
Chapter 2
Empathy vs. Resentment Theme Icon
Greed, Purity, and Corruption Theme Icon
While making friends in high society, Ivan starts playing whist, enjoying the card game along with his increased salary and burgeoning reputation. He also begins... (full context)
Chapter 4
Empathy vs. Resentment Theme Icon
Greed, Purity, and Corruption Theme Icon
Illness and Control Theme Icon
...align with his physician’s advice, as evidenced by his tendency to stay out late playing whist with his friends. And though he argues that this only happened once, Praskovya remains steadfast... (full context)
Empathy vs. Resentment Theme Icon
Illness and Control Theme Icon
...respected reputation, both of which remind him of himself as a younger man. When playing whist, he begins to make mistakes, but instead of critiquing him, the other players simply ask... (full context)