dc113507 on Mar 26th 2012
“But after all, we are a young nation, and vanity is a fault of youth.”- Rebecca Davis
Vanity is defined as “excessive pride and admiration in one’s own achievements and appearance.” Wouldn’t it be difficult to argue that as human beings, we aren’t all entitled to a sense of self pride and accomplishment? Why shouldn’t we be proud of ourselves when we achieve a goal, be it in school, in the work place, or our personal lives? It is only natural.
In our class reading of ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich,’ Leo Tolstoy tells the story of a man whose pride and preoccupation with materialistic trivialities transformed his life for the poorer. The novella begins with the announcement of the death of the main character Ivan Ilyich. The story proceeds in a flashback manner, recounting the details of Ivan’s life and how his affair with vanity ultimately lead to a dull life, void of meaningful and intimate relationships. Ivan is portrayed as a man whose main focus and goal in life was to ascend a social ladder and gain the acceptance and approval of his peers. Ivan neglects the important relationships in his life. He admits that even his decision to marry was not one that was made based on love and emotion; rather he married because ‘his social circle approved of the match.’ Consequently, his life at home was one empty of any meaningful and intimate relationships. Ivan emotionally neglected his family, and even at the time of his death it is difficult for the reader to find a character who is truly heartbroken by the loss.
Was Leo Tolstoy’s purpose for writing this novella to entertain the reader, and make him feel better about his own life? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s a likely cause. In my opinion Tolstoy wrote this novella with a highly satiric undertone, intended for generations after him to grasp and analyze. Tolstoy is making a direct attack on all those in society that are so occupied with superficial matters that they lead a hollow life, vacant of real emotions and relationships that make life meaningful. Tolstoy uses the character of Ivan as a giant warning sign for his audience. Ivan is viewed as a pitiful character, whose fate no person could envy. Readers don’t finish ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych,’ and aspire to mimic the life of Ivan. I think Tolstoy’s objective in writing this novella was to start to turn the gears in the minds of his readers, and have them begin to evaluate their own lives.
In our society today it is so easy to get caught up in a superficial and materialistic life. Everywhere you turn you are reminded that appearance is everything. Be it on a billboard ad, a magazine ad, a commercial, a picture of your favorite celebrity in a magazine, people are reminded every day of the ‘importance’ of appearance and social standings. But after reading “The Death of Ivan Ilyich’ I think it is essential for people to begin to realize their imminent miserable fate when they have a prolonged affair with vanity.