Honors English II
October 4, 2001
Holden + 16 = Ivan Ilych + 45
“He wept on account of his helplessness, his terrible loneliness, the cruelty of man, the cruelty of G-d, and the absence of G-d” (Death of Ivan Ilych, 1313). If the fact that this quote comes from Leo Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilych were to be withheld, one could easily make a mistake and think that it pertained to Holden, the main character in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Pegging every concept questioned by both Ivan Ilych and Holden Caufield, this quote could be used to describe either character’s dilemmas, even though the books were written over half a century apart. However, there are dissimilarities between the two characters due to the different styles in which the two authors decided to present their novels. Tolstoy shows Ivan as a man who lived a phony life, until he realized he was dying, while Salinger shows a boy who has already been exposed to death. But even though towards the beginning of their lives, Ivan and Holden can be described as two points on different planes, the realization of death and suffering brings both characters to intersect at one point. Ironically, Holden and Ivan are connected through their loneliness, which additionally leads them both to question certain aspects of societal values.
At the start of both books, the two characters are so contradictory, that if Holden were to have met Ivan, then Holden would without a doubt scorn and critique him for his superficial views and values. Unlike Holden, Ivan Ilych lived out most of his life being the perfect example of what Holden would call a prostitute. Until he realized that he was dying, Ivan was a complete phony who was a judge not because of the fact that he liked helping innocent people, but because he was attracted by the money and the power of the position. Throughout the book, he moves from department to department in hopes of getting a promotion and a big raise, just so he can go ahead and gamble it all away, playing vist. “All he now wanted was an appointment to another post with a salary of five thousand rubles…it had to carry with it a salary of five thousand rubles…” (1219). This is very much in contrast with Holden, who does not even want to hold a profession because he is afraid that it will corrupt him and his views. While speaking with Phoebe, he expresses to her the paradox of actually becoming someone like a doctor or a lawyer. “I mean they’re all right if they go around saving innocent guys’ lives all the time, and like that, but you don’t do that kind of stuff if you’re a lawyer…How would you know you weren’t being a phony?” (172). Holden is afraid of starting a career for a noble reason, and then once society starts rewarding him, he is afraid of conforming and becoming phony (like Ivan) and doing his job just for the material reason itself. This is exactly how Ernie the piano player became a sell out, and started doing futile variations and elaboration only for the audience’s approval. “He was putting all these dumb, show-offy ripples in the high notes, and a lot of tricky stuff that gives me a pain in the ass…You would’ve puked” (84). And just like Ernie, Ivan Ilych works as a lawyer to fulfil his quest for money and recognition. Holden’s scalding description of Ernie’s behavior in the nightclub proves just how much Holden would hate Ivan Ilych’s shallow character. Yet not only is Ivan a prostitute in his official working life, but also in his social life, for his reasons for marriage were exactly the same as his reasons for being a lawyer; the approval and applause of society and his superiors: “…it was considered the right thing by the most highly placed of his associates” (1288). Unlike Holden, who wouldn’t even fool around with a girl unless he felt a spiritual and physical connection, Ivan goes off and marries a woman for whom he doesn’t really care. Because Ivan is just like all other conformed