Saturday, October 9, 2010

English Paper #3: A Little Bit Of Everything

I know this is WAY overdue, but I just remembered that I shared the first and second installment of Kayla's college adventure with everyone, but not the third which I promised to do ALL three.

I can't welch on a promise now can I?!

For those of you who read the first two papers I wrote, this one is a little different-It was a research paper, so it may be a little 'boring' for those who haven't read the book The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy.

{Great story in my opinion by the way-Depressing, but I have a personal connection to Ivan so that's probably why I enjoyed it so much}

Anyway, for those of you who want to read, I hope you enjoy!

P.s. This was a BITCH of a paper to write-Seriously, towards the end, I just gave up and turned it in. I thought I was totally going to bomb it, but when I got it back, I marveled at what I saw...

It was a B!


A Little Bit of Everything

"The syllogism he had learnt from Kiesewetter's logic: 'Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal,' had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself"(Tolstoy: The Death of Ivan Ilych). This is a phrase uttered in a state of disbelief by Ivan Ilych, a dying man in Leo Tolstoy's story, The Death of Ivan Ilych. Look closely at that phrase; if you take just a moment to ponder it's meaning, you will see that most living things would think the exact same thing when put in a similar situation. Death is automatically a feared happening since it is shrouded in such mystery, so people cope with that fear by projecting outwards the illusion that death cannot touch them. However, when a person falls ill, or has a near death experience, that illusion is shattered, and they eventually have to come to the realization that "Caius is mortal," something that Ivan Ilych struggled to comprehend throughout the whole story. Leo Tolstoy included a great deal of his own life into many of his literary works, so it is not unreasonable to think that he, too, had an immense fear of death similar to that of Ivan. "It was impossible to stop, impossible to go back, and impossible to close my eyes or avoid seeing that there was nothing ahead but suffering and real death--complete annihilation"(Tolstoy" A Confession 4). According to Tolstoy, life did not matter if you did not know its meaning, so why even bother living at all? This train of thought went on well through middle age until something changed for him, and he began seeking out life's truth in certain religions. It is my belief from reading some of his works and learning more about him, that instead of one specific religion, a person could argue Tolstoy took certain aspects of each religion he explored while looking for truth, and applied them to his life and his work, such as in The Death of Ivan Ilych.

Ever since the early age of eighteen when he abandoned his religious views and upbringing in the Christian Orthodox faith, it has been written Tolstoy took on the belief system of an agnostic, a person who believes that the existence of a higher power, whether it is God, or another deity, can be proven nor disproven. For those who consider themselves agnostic, it is most common for them to go through life looked upon as individuals on the "religious fence." In A Confession, Tolstoy goes on to explain his beliefs through what can only be described as agnosticism: "What it was I believed in, I could not have said. I believed in a God, or rather did not deny a God, but I could not have said what sort of God" (Tolstoy 1). You can see by the absence of religious connections excluding the funeral in the beginning of the story, that Ivan and Tolstoy both really couldn't be bothered with religious affiliations. A line that particularly stands out, that I feel makes my point quite well, is written when Ivan has somewhat of a meltdown closer to the end of his life: "He wept on account of his helplessness, his terrible loneliness, the cruelty of man, the cruelty of God, and the absence of God"(Tolstoy: The Death of Ivan Ilych 143).

Aside from a distinct agnostic feel to the book, you can also see references to the religion of Buddhism if you happen to be familiar with their customs and beliefs. According to The Everything World's Religion Book by Robert Pollock, Buddhism is a branch of Hinduism, but unlike in the belief system of Hindus, Buddhists reject the Vedic (a variety of Sanskrit language) literature and refuse to accept the cast system as authoritative. This may not mean much to a person who's not familiar with Tolstoy and his writings, but from what I have read, Tolstoy lets you know in no uncertain terms that he despises his upper class system (a distinct Buddhist characteristic), and sometimes even himself along with it. "As soon as the period began which had produced the present Ivan Ilych, all that had seemed joys now melted before his sight and turned into something trivial and often nasty" (Tolstoy: The Death of Ivan Ilych 144). All the things Ivan strived for at the beginning of the story, including his class stature, were meaningless in the face of death. Another instance of Buddhist thinking is when Tolstoy directly quoted Buddha, along with other revered thinkers in A Confession: "To life in the consciousness of the inevitability of suffering, of becoming enfeebled, of old age and of death, is impossible--we must free ourselves from life, from all possible life."

Unlike the other two religions that seem to be masterfully disguised in this example of Tolstoy's writing, the religion that can be most easily found and identified is that of Christianity. Christianity is the religion of God and of Jesus Christ, which started more then two thousand years ago in the land of Judea, or, as it is better known now as present day Israel (History of Christianity). In The Death of Ivan Ilych, the story first opens with a Christian funeral: candles, incense, and mourners. Ivan's longtime friend, Peter, even makes the sign of the cross (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) when witnessing Ivan's body in his casket. These are all tell tale signifier of the Christian faith. Even though that was the only reference to Tolstoy and Ivan's initial religious practice at the beginning of the book, as the story slowly progresses, you start to see other mentioned Christian-esque happenings, such as the fact that Tolstoy called upon "Him," "Thou," and "God" a great deal, which is indicative of not only Ivan's spiritual revelation, but of Tolstoy's as well. Once such instance is as follows: "Why hast Thou done all this? Why has Thou brought me here? Why, why dost Thou torment me so terribly?" (Tolstoy: The Death of Ivan Ilych 143). You can see as Ivan lay dying, he addresses someone he feels did this to him, someone who has the power to put him to death. Another example of Christianity in the story is when Ivan invites a priest into his home, and takes communion because he feels it will help his situation.

Leo Tolstoy put a great deal of his own life into The Death of Ivan Ilych and many of this other great works, so it comes as no surprise that he thought to include his religious affiliations. Even though Tolstoy was said to be a born again Christian toward the end of his life, and there were numerous related events and references throughout the book itself, I have to think otherwise. Yes, he may have taken aspects of Christianity and incorporated them into his belief system, but as I stated and explained in the above paragraphs, a person could argue Tolstoy took certain aspects of each religion he explored while looking for truth, and applied them to his everyday life and work, such as in The Death of Ivan Ilych. Agnosticism, Buddhism, Christianity, and maybe even a few others can he found within Tolstoy's work if you just look close enough.

Disclaimer:: This paper is the exclusive property and copywrite of The Eclectic Element.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I love your paper Kayla, I really enjoy reading it.
I loved reading Tolstoy but never read this particular book, I guess it's because I feel isn't really appropriate for middle school kids (that's when they taught us about Tolstoy in Italy)