The protagonist of the novel. Ivan is a nondescript, unexceptional man. He admires those with high social standing, and conforms his values and behavior to their rules. Ivan has a penchant for formalizing every human relationship. In his official work, he is careful to remove all personal concerns from consideration. In his private life, he adopts a fixed attitude toward his family.
Ivan's sick nurse and the butler's assistant. In this novel, Gerasim serves as a foil to Ivan: healthy, vigorous, direct, he is everything that Ivan is not. Unlike the other characters, Ivan understands that unpleasantness and unpredictability are a part of life.
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Ivan's closest friend and fellow judge. Although he only appears in chapter I, Peter serves as a representative of Ivan's social milieu. He tends to view his relationships with people as instrumental to the achievement of his ends, and he goes to great lengths to avoid what is discomforting. Nevertheless, Peter is somehow more open to the truth than the other characters.
Ivan's wife and the mother of his children. Praskovya's behavior toward others is artificial and self-interested. While feigning sympathy and concern for Ivan during his illness, her real attitude is one of hostility and impatience for his death.
Ivan's colleague and friend. Schwartz is a well-dressed, playful, thoroughly proper man. He ignores life's unpleasantness. At Ivan's funeral, he is immune to all depressing influences and maintains his jovial and lighthearted demeanor. Ivan mentions that Schwartz reminds him very much of his former self, and thus it is clear that Schwartz is a kind of double for Ivan. The fact that "Schwartz" is German for "black," hints at Tolstoy's belief in the emptiness and ultimate demise of such an attitude toward life.
Ivan's son. Vasya is the youngest member of the Golovin household. Sensitive and quiet, Vasya has not yet been corrupted by the beliefs and values of his parents' social world. He is capable of forming empathetic bonds with other people, and he is the only other person, besides Gerasim, who truly understands Ivan and his condition.
Ivan's daughter. Lisa is very much like her mother. Selfish and easily annoyed, Lisa resents any influence that distracts her from her own contentment. Her father's suffering inconveniences her more than anything else.
Lisa's fiancé. Fedor is a typical member of his society. There is nothing remarkable or noteworthy about his character.