the Pursuit of Happienss

Everybody's path is distinctive to the point where there may be nothing in common between individuals. There is not a single similarity between the dying middle-class everyman Ivan Illych from Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Illych and the libertine scholar Jean-Jacques Rousseau. However, just like the journey of any individual on Earth, both of their journeys are about life, happiness, and liberty.

Ivan Illych, one of the main characters in The Death of Ivan Illych, is a difficult character to describe because he lacks any distinguishing characteristics at all. Ivan Illych's main moral is in admiring of those who has a higher social status than he does. His conformity is his biggest weakness. He does not rely on reason or experience to guide his life but adopts values of the aristocrats without giving them a second thought. Because of this, Ivan develops an automatic approach towards his relationship with other people. At work, he has no personal involvement with anyone, and at home, he has no real commitment to his family.

Ivan Illych does not have obvious strengths of the character except for the fact that he did not manage to make any real harm to anyone in his lifetime because he was not committed to doing bad things just in the same way as he was not committed to doing any good. This, however, does not make him a bad man. Rather, it makes him a misguided man who did not manage to pick the right values due to lack of strength and character. Ivan Illych's respect for the others is just as automatic as all of his other attitudes. He respects people for being members of a certain class and expects them to respect him because he is deeply concerned about what other thinks of him. Ivan Illych is forced to re-evaluate his life in the face of death.

Ivan' life before his condition is almost painfully ordinary. He is a middle-class man with a bureaucratic job that pays an average salary that does not allow him to return his debts as a poker player. He is also married with two kids, but nothing remarkable could be said about the marriage. Ivan develops the appreciation for material things. He buys things all the time not only to feel better but to make other people impressed.

There is no such thing as liberty for Ivan as he is restricted by the norms of the society he identifies himself with. This does not worry him because liberty does not seem to be on the list of his core values. He is constantly worried about what others think to be appropriate and tries to live up tp their expectations. Because of this, he would never admit that his marriage is falling apart.

Despite the average life and lack of liberty, Ivan believes that he achieved happiness. His life is pleasant for most of the time. He enjoys himself, plays bridge, and tries not to be influenced by anything he finds inappropriate. He does not work to achieve some results but to achieve the sense of a social belonging. To have a pleasant life, he cuts everything that is unpleasant to him off his routine. This is why he distance himself from a pregnant wife and does the same with his little daughter after she is born. His self-centered understanding of happiness is clearly one of the factors that make his sudden disease unbearable to him. Once there is the only discomfort left, and pleasure is taken away, Ivan realizes that he had never been truly happy. He re-evaluates his life just to find out that nothing he cared for mattered and he never truly lived. To find lost happiness, he turns to his family to reconnect with them one last time before dying. He also turns to religion though he couldn't find piece through it, seeing death mainly as a punishment from God. Finally, Ivan does achieve liberation because death strips him away from artificial social values. Finally, his death is a relief because it helps him to let go of the pain.


Luckily, Jean-Jacques Rousseau from Confessions is nothing like Ivan Illych. He is a liberated smart man whose life has always been an exciting journey. However, just like any other human in the world, he struggles with life, happiness, and liberation.

The fact that Rousseau is morally flexible can be seen as his weakness. He is definitely not pure and makes a lot of questionable decisions like changing his religion in a moment. However, the biggest strength of Rousseau is that he always tends to be honest with himself about his decisions. Hence, things that might seem morally wrong about him are not usually so because he is straightforward about everything he does. Sometimes, however, this attitude is nothing more than words. For example, when he wrongfully accuses a young woman of the crime he openly expresses being disturbed with this but does nothing to clear her name. Rousseau is independent but is capable of admiring people for who they are. He does develop several significant bounds with people even though his life has been a turmoil and he is not the easiest person to communicate with. Mama is an influential figure in his life as she provides him with support in every area of his life. He needs her to guide him so that he can stick to his life pattern. Clearly,

Rousseau displays respect for others if they have the respect for themselves because it is hard to deal with him otherwise.

The purpose of Rousseau's life is to fully dedicate himself to art. He is a liberated individual. Thus he does not necessarily need liberation from others or some challenging life conditions. However, Rousseau often needs to be liberated from himself as he is at risk of creating challenges for himself. This is why a seemingly independent Rousseau finds himself in need of moral guidance. Rousseau's life is one great adventure with places, people and changing occupation. At times, it is hard to stay focused under such conditions. Rousseau is also distracted by his lustfulness that often does not even targeted at anyone in particular. He wants to find happiness through achieving the depths of honesty. Towards the end of Confessions, Rousseau immerses himself in the intellectual work that helps to stay focused on his goals, letting go of his minute desires for a while.


Bot Ivan Illych and Rousseau reinvent their values over the course of their respective literature works. For Ivan Illych, the result is his death, while for Rousseau, it is his artistic liberation. Hence, the unlikely connection between their lives can be drawn.

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