Tolstoy and Chekhov Death Is the Only Essay

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Tolstoy and Chekhov

Death is the only true inevitability in a person's life. Once born, the only thing that is guaranteed is that one day that life will be extinguished. People live their whole lives with a death sentence hanging over their heads. For some people, death is terrifying and they rail against it and do whatever they can to avoid it. Others see death as a kind release, excusing them from the world of men, where they toil. Each person reacts differently to their own impending death and to the deaths of their loved ones. There is no single right or wrong way to react to someone's death or to react around someone who is in the process of dying. In both Anton Chekhov's "Rothschild's Fiddle" and Leo Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilych," the authors explore the ways that a man may deal with the death of those around him and his own mortality. In both cases, there are men who think only of gain; of the continuation and strengthening of their financial and social statuses. When the men discover their immortality, they are both afraid and, in both cases, the closer they get to death, the more alive that they feel and the less afraid they become.

The Chekhov story is told from the perspective of a coffin maker named Yakov Matveyitch. This man earns his living because of the loss of life that others face. He does not become emotional over the deaths, even if they are his friends. Each corpse is merely more money in his pocket. The only loss that Yakov feels is when he does not get to build a coffin or he does not make money playing his violin. His only feelings of grief come from reminiscing about financial opportunities that he was unable to cash in on. Even the loss of his wife to influenza only gives him momentary emotional grief. More than anything, he equates her death with a loss in that he must pay for her coffin. The only emotion Yakov ever shows is anger. "Yakov was never in a good temper, as he was continually having to put up with terrible losses" (Chekhov 1). His greed has made his wife Marfa so miserable in her own lifetime that she believes she cannot rest as death approaches because he will yell at her for costing him something.
Yakov is a man consumed by hatred. He has hatred for the village people around him because they do not die with enough frequency for him to make a profit. Yakov has hatred for the Jewish people who live in his community, represented by his prejudicial behaviors against the eponymous Rothschild. Chekhov writes: "For no apparent reason, Yakov little by little became possessed by hatred and contempt for the Jews, and especially for Rothschild" (1). The Jews represent all the people around Yakov who disrespect him or have something that he feels he is entitled to. Yakov only gets to make money by playing his violin with the village orchestra when a Jewish musician is not available. Thus he hates them because their good health costs him money both by denying him a place in the orchestra and by denying him a body to encase in a custom made coffin.

Marfa, when death approaches her, is overcome with a sense of joy and happiness. "And she gazed at the ceiling and moved her lips, and her expression was one of happiness, as though she saw death as her deliverer and were whispering to him" (Chekhov 1). Yakov makes this realization that he has been a cruel husband to his wife, but does not do much in the way to either ease her suffering or to let her know that he cares for her. After she dies, he prosaically prepares her for burial, cutting corners to minimize his financial loss. Only when Yakov becomes aware of his own mortality does he begin to think of the world as an entity beyond himself. He is able to feel emotions for the first time in a long time, if ever he had feelings at all. Yakov weeps and plays the….....

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