Some works of literature seem to appear at the right moments--just when we need them, when we're ready to accept the universal messages of hope, life, and experience. The volumes present different meanings and messages through the years--often seeming to evolve with us, as we pick up experiences along the way (love, laugh, pain and joys). That's why we can't tell a book by its cover (the cover is not ALL)--the words are alive. They grow and change with us. Meaning often develops with our perceptions.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a novella, first published in 1886. I first read it when I was taking Prof. M. for a World Literature overview course (it's often studied in high school and college classrooms). We read this work in-line with Joyce's "Araby," Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, Marge Piercy's poetry, Ursula Le Guin, and Oedipus Rex. Some works seem to become even more a part of our selves as time goes on. Other poems, stories and novels are added to the mix. And, the brutal realities of experience becomes ever-more clear.
In The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy addresses universal questions: the meaning of life and the inevitability of death. Our protagonist had counted himself a success, but what are the thoughts that cross his mind in those final moments? What did success and life and death really mean? And, it finally occurs to him: "Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done... how could that be, when I did everything properly?"
Tolstoy writes: "It is as if I had been going downhill while I imagined I was going up. And that is really what it was. I was going up in public opinion, but to the same extent life was ebbing away from me. And now it is all done and there is only death."
What moments of clarity have you experienced in literature? Have you experienced epiphanies? Has the literary experience changed your life?