The Widow Of The Lost Phoebe English Literature Essay

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"The Death of Ivan Ilyitch" and "The Lost Phoebe" are at first glance rather hard to disguish from each other. However, "The Death of Ivan Ilyitch" is from a completely different writing period than "The Lost Phoebe." "The Death of Ivan Ilyitch" is based on realism, while "The Lost Phoebe" is based on naturalism. While both subjects are faced with the subject of death, the perspectives are different regarding social class, environment, and the mental state the character holds. These key differences evoke in the reader a sense of sympathy for one and apathy for the other.

"The Death of Ivan Ilyitch" is centered on a man who comes to the end of his life suffering from a terminal illness to find he has wasted his life. He is faced then with re-evaluating its purpose and he seeks to come to terms with death itself. In true realistic fashion, he is successful and materialistic. He has what would be considered a well-bred social circle in which to take part of. As he seeks peace in the time of death his wife and children search desperately for a cure. They ask doctor after doctor to visit, give him prescriptions, and a proper diagnosis as Ivan lies on his couch with his feet propped up knowing there is no answer except death. The story is therefore based on a middle-class family that lives in an environment familiar to the reader. This was the aim of Realism. The fact that his background is middle class is obvious as the reader finds out that Ivan married because "his social circle approved of the match" (1339). He also held a position in the department of Justice. Nothing is said of the environment-the trees, shrubs, and hills. However, the environment in which he lived-the home-life and social circle was addressed to the fullest. Ivan thought his wife to be "querulous and ill-tempered" (1340). He held the view that "dinner at home, housewife, and bed…and above all that propriety of external forms required by public opinion" is all that he needed for a satisfactory life (1340). The reader was supposed to be able to identify with the character and the setting. Everyday language was used. Realism targeted the weaknesses of middle class society-the strive for power, fame, money and the "American Dream." It portrayed life in a series of events, rather than one single climax around which the entire story revolved. The death of Ivan Ilyitch does not evoke a sense of sympathy. Rather it forces the reader to evaluate his or her own situation. It makes the reader question the meaning of life and whether the values placed high within the middle class society are really worth it when life comes to the end. As the character struggles with the idea he is dying his inner thoughts can be read in their entirety as he shouts, "When I am not, what will there be? There will be nothing. Then where shall I be when I am no more? Can this be dying? No, I don't want to!" (1352). Realism sought to evaluate real-life in its entirety to make it identifiable and to make society question itself and it's intentions.

On the other hand, "The Lost Phoebe" approached the subject of death in much different light and even addressed the mental state of one who becomes physically incapable of forming sane thoughts. This is different than "The Death of Ivan Ilyitch" in that Ivan remains sane until the day he dies. Henry Reifsneider, however, loses his sane mental state not long after the love of his life dies. When his wife dies he is left alone in social isolation. He is poor and can hardly care for himself; it is Henry against the elements and his mental state. Naturalism was the style that often embraced this type of low-life character. He was at a disadvantage. He was poor, stubborn, old and insane. The goal of the Naturalist writer was to evoke a sense of sympathy for the character and see him as a victim of his physical environment rather than tied to social expectations of the society in which he lived. It was hinted that he lived a good life with his wife seeing as they "were as fond of each other as it is possible for two old people to be who have nothing else in this life to be fond of" (2). They had no "soaring intellect" and the "orchard, the meadow, the corn-field, the pig-pen, and the chicken-lot measure the range of their human activities" (2). When his wife Phoebe dies, he lives in further isolation and has to fend for himself for the first time since he married Phoebe. This isolation eventually causes him to go slowly insane-his mind leading him to believe Phoebe never actually died. His mind sees a "chair near a table, with his coat on it, the half-open kitchen door casting a shadow and the position of a lamp near a paper-[which] gave him an exact representation of Phoebe leaning over the table as he had often seen her do in life" (5). After that instance, illusions begin coming more frequently until he begins to travel long distances in search of her. This ultimately leads him to chase an illusion right off the side of the cliff-where he falls to his death. Ultimately, the thought is not about the usefulness of life or the misplacement of values, but the way in which the main character became a victim of his own environment. Therefore, the character isn't questioned but rather he is accepted. The character, therefore, is out of control of his destiny but it is not his fault. This was the aim of Naturalism.

In conclusion, While Realism strives in "The Death of Ivan Ilyitch" to expose the misplaced values of middle-class society, make it relatable, and as true to real life as possible thus causing apathy and even a hostile attitude for the main character-Naturalism has quite a different purpose. In "The Lost Phoebe" the main character is seen as a victim of it's physical environment, put in an isolated environment and then is thrust into a situation of which he has no control thus evoking sympathy.