Comparative Study Between the Death of Ivan Ilyich and Heart of Darkness Term Paper

Pages: 4 (1308 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Literature

¶ … geographically and culturally worlds apart, Leo Tolstoy's the Death of Ivan Ilych and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness both offer address existential issues. The protagonists in each novel come face-to-face with their own mortality, pondering the meaning of their lives and of life in general. Both novels also expose the repercussions of a capitalist worldview. In Heart of Darkness, Conrad focuses on colonialism and capitalism whereas Tolstoy reveals the heartless nature of bureaucracy in the Russian legal system. Through their encounters with their own mortality, Ivan Ilych and Marlow both struggle to find purpose in life. Ilych and Marlow also seek moral meaning in the midst of a dehumanizing economic system.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Comparative Study Between the Death of Ivan Ilyich and Heart of Darkness Assignment

Chapter two of the Death of Ivan Ilych begins, "Ivan Ilych's life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible." Ivan Ilych shares in common with Kurtz the notion that ordinariness is worthless. Throughout his career and since he left law school, Ilych had strong ambitions to become a member of high society. In fact, Ilych spends the greater part of his life in search of social acceptance and upward mobility. He, like Kurtz, becomes increasingly consumed with power and the quest for personal power and positions of authority. As Tolstoy writes, "The consciousness of his power, being able to ruin anybody he wished to ruin, the importance, even the external dignity of his entry into court, or meetings with his subordinates, his success with superiors and inferiors, and above all his masterly handling of cases, of which he was conscious -- all this gave him pleasure and filled his life." Similarly, Kurtz derives the only pleasure from life out of his role as a demigod. He creates a fantasy world around him to transcend what would have been an ordinary ascription to rules and regulations. Kurtz, however, creates his own rules whereas Ilych seeks power within the established social norms: "he considered his duty to be what was so considered by those in authority." Ilych remained enamored with social and political power, like Kurtz. Yet unlike the eccentric Kurtz, Ivan Ilych remained a conformist throughout this life, playing the game of the bureaucrat good-naturedly. Ilych remained at heart dedicated to social duty: "Even when he was at the School of Law he was just what he remained for the rest of his life: a capable, cheerful, good-natured, and sociable man."

Just as Tolstoy describes Ilych's life as lacking ultimate purpose, Conrad describes Marlow's life as a series of "inconclusive experiences." Meaninglessness is thus a central theme of both novels. Moreover, the protagonists of both novels grow more cynical as they age and as they confront the meaninglessness of life. Ilych shares far more in common with Marlow than Kurtz, for Marlow remained a dutiful servant of the company unlike Kurtz. Ivan Ilych "performed his official task, made his career, and at the same time amused himself pleasantly and decorously." Similarly, the narrator of Heart of Darkness describes himself as "a part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings."

The "high and just proceedings" that the narrator of Heart of Darkness refers to is directly related to the colonial enterprise embodied by the Company. The Company and what it stands for are increasingly revealed as being destructive and inhumane: "the merry dance of death and trade goes on in a still and earthy atmosphere as of an overheated catacomb." Thus, for both Ilych and Marlow death is what offers insight into life. Death therefore features centrally in both novels and becomes the primary force shaping the protagonists' character development. Both Ilych and Marlow realize that death is the one factor that unites all human beings and negates any social hierarchies they may have previously ascribed to. As Marlow notes, "They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now -- nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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