Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich or Bergmans The Seventh Seal

In this assignment, you will write a 2-4 page essay exploring the theme of the “absurd” in either Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich or Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Use what you have learned in lecture and in the readings (especially Camus) to develop your ideas.

Your paper should focus on the following themes and questions:

(1) Why, according to Camus, is life “absurd”? Why do the existentialists think that questions about absurdity arise when we “take atheism seriously”?

(2) What similarities can be found between the characters in Death of Ivan Ilyich or The Seventh Seal and Camus’ “Sisyphus”?

(3) Does the author/filmmaker suggest any particular response to life’s “absurdity”? Do any of the characters seem to represent the “absurd hero”?

(4) What do you think the author/filmmaker is trying to say about the meaning of life? Can you find any criticism/disagreement with existentialist views on life’s absurdity?

Use specific examples from the text/film to support your claims. You may also use quotes from the author/filmmaker to support your view.

You may use external sources, but you must clearly cite. I will accept APA or MLA format. Citations must be reliable, and should not be “open-content” – no Wikipedia!! (Books, peer-reviewed journals, academic groups, or non-profit foundations are okay).
Here are some examples of reliable, helpful online sources:

Ingmar Bergman Foundation:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Existentialism):

Tolstoy Studies Journal (University of Toronto – includes digital back issues):

Grading Criteria
Thesis: Should explain, in one or two sentences, the topic and purpose of the paper. (e.g. In this paper, I will compare Tolstoy and Camus on the topic of “The Absurd.”) Should be clear, easily identifiable, and accurate.

Structure/Analysis: Structure should be understandable and easy to follow. There should be logical transitions from point to point. Paragraphs should support clear topic sentences. Main analytical points should relate clearly to thesis. Analysis is insightful and interesting, showing meaningful thought on the topic.

Evidence: Author uses quotes appropriately and accurately to support points, evidence comes from a reliable source (primary text or secondary source, as defined above). Examples support topic sentence and fit within paragraph.

Mechanics: Sentence structure, grammar are appropriate to a college-level course. Citation and punctuation are used correctly (see MLA guidelines). There are no run-ons, fragments, or spelling issues.

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