Home / Assignment Help / Why is the ending of “The Lady, or the Tiger?” so effective? How does this ambiguity affect the reader?

Why is the ending of “The Lady, or the Tiger?” so effective? How does this ambiguity affect the reader?

Answer:Leo Tolstoy wrote the novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich to criticize the emerging middle class of modern Russia in the nineteenth century. Ivan Ilyich, his family, and his friends are part of this budding middle class. Tolstoy’s aim in writing this novella was to criticize the thoughts and the approach of middle class people toward their families, their jobs, and society. He used the life of Ivan Ilyich to demonstrate all the aspects of the middle class that he believed were wrong. Tolstoy portrays Ivan Ilyich as a man whose life decisions are based on social acceptance. He chooses his friends and even his wife based on their social standing. When he starts to find his family life unpleasant because of his wife’s constant nagging, he limits his interactions with the whole family. Instead, he seeks comfort in his work. He assumes a formal relationship with his family members, particularly his wife. This change in his feelings and attitude toward his family does not seem strange to him. On the contrary, getting away from his family becomes his life goal:  

This aloofness might have grieved Ivan Ilyich had he considered that it ought not to exist, but he now regarded the position as normal, and even made it the goal at which he aimed in family life.

Tolstoy deplored the middle-class habit of maintaining distance with family members in private but keeping up appearances of closeness for the public. Tolstoy shows his character Ivan Ilyich making the effort to maintain this detachment from his family members while ensuring that his family appears on the outside to be a regular and happy family. Even when he has to be at home with his family, he makes sure that they have guests. That way, he can avoid confrontations or meaningful discussions with his family:

His aim was to free himself more and more from those unpleasantnesses and to give them a semblance of harmlessness and propriety. He attained this by spending less and less time with his family, and when obliged to be at home he tried to safeguard his position by the presence of outsiders.

Ilyich’s work soon becomes an obsession, and everything else, including his family is secondary to his job:

The chief thing however was that he had his official duties. The whole interest of his life now centered in the official world and that interest absorbed him.

Through Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy portrayed a class of people who make determined efforts to escape human contact and suffering by seemingly living in denial. They are people who run away from love and relationships, and they are unwilling to reflect on their lives. Instead, they choose to exist in their self-centered world until they are jolted into reality. In Ivan Ilyich’s case, this jolt comes in the form of his illness in chapter 4.  

Tolstoy would not have agreed with Ivan Ilyich’s priorities. Unlike Ivan, Tolstoy looked inward throughout his adult life. He searched for a deeper meaning and purpose, especially in regard to his political and religious ideals. While those ideals eventually caused Tolstoy to avoid his wife, he generally had a close relationship with his family. By all accounts, he seemed very much a man who loved and cherished his wife and their 10 children. While Tolstoy was dedicated to his writing, his family seemed to inspire him, rather than get in the way of his literary genius. His wife was involved in his work, having transcribed most of his writing. Even Tolstoy’s last days were spent on a pilgrimage that he embarked on with his youngest daughter.


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