One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Section 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Shukhov enters Barracks 7 and approaches the man with the tobacco. He is careful not to reveal why he is there, as the barracks is small and everyone is listening. He begins with small talk about the weather before asking for the tobacco. Shukhov tells the man to stuff it into a glass container for him, using the word “stuff” on purpose because the man is known to drop it in loosely.
Shukhov’s care when asking the man for tobacco reveals the competition within the camp. Possessing goods makes an individual a target, and revealing too much about oneself makes one a target for Zeks looking to snitch to the authorities for extra privileges and rations.
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As Shukhov waits for the Latvian to fill the container he hears other prisoners talking about “old whiskers” a name they use for Joseph Stalin. Shukhov notes that one good thing about the “special camp” is that you could talk openly about Stalin, while at other camp that would land you in the hold and add ten years to your sentence. When Shukhov had received his tobacco he pays the Latvian two rubles and leaves.
In some ways, the men are liberated in the camp in ways they are not on the outside, as shown by the talk about Stalin. Further, the freedom to talk about Stalin shows that even the authorities within the camp are resentful about their situation.
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Shukhov hurries back to barracks 9 so he doesn't miss Tsezar’s arrival with his parcel. Tsezar has already arrived, and has the contents of his parcel out on his bed. Shukhov tells him he brought his bread back for him, careful not to ask whether he got the package, as that would reveal his desire to receive some of its contents, and even eight years in the camp had not made him a jackal. His “hawk like” eyes, however, examine the contents, which include sausage, fish, bread and tobacco. Tsezar tells Shukhov to keep the bread.
Shukhov is careful not to ask about Tsezar’s parcel, as asking would reveal his desire and blemish his dignity, and even his time in the camp has not taken his dignity. His eyes, however, suggest that inside he really does long for Tsezar’s goods.
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The narrator explains that one would expect a man to be overjoyed at the arrival of a parcel, but before even opening it a Zek is already scheming on how to get more. By the time a Zek pays off the officials, the mailroom clerk, the squad leader, and anyone else who deserves a cut there isn’t much left for himself. Shukhov knows this, so he doesn't envy the men who get parcels, he doesn't open his belly to things that are not his.
Shukhov knows that the competition for resources limits the joy a Zek feels upon receiving a parcel. After paying off the authorities and those who assist in getting a parcel safely back to the barracks, a Zek has little for himself. Because of this, Shukhov does now allow himself to envy others, as he sees the futility in envy.
Themes
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Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
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Shukhov climbs onto his bunk hand pulls out the piece of metal, figuring it will take a few days to turn it into a good knife. Fetyukov returns to the barracks sobbing with his face speared with blood—he’d been beaten for scrounging bowls of food. Shukhov feels bad for him, knowing that he wont see the end of his term, as he doesn't have the right attitude.
Fetyukov’s assault shows that losing one's dignity is not only figuratively harmful to the Zeks, but can result in actual physical harm. Shukhov knows that the only way to survive is to have the right attitude, which means maintaining one's identity, principals, and dignity.
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Just then, Buynovsky returns delighted because Tsezar has given him tea to make for them. Shukhov ignores the men, not wanting to upset himself, but he knows the men need his knife to prepare their food, which entitles him to a cut. Shukhov repays the Estonians for the cigarette they’d given him earlier, but waits to roll another, knowing the count would be coming soon.
Tsezar and Buynovsky share a sense of camaraderie based on their backgrounds, which is shown by the sharing of Tsezar’s goods. Shukhov, coming from a different background, is not part of their friendship, but will share in the goods because they need him. Shukhov’s repaying the Estonians without needing to be asked shows his upstanding character and dedication to maintaining his dignity.
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As Shukhov waits for the count, a guard called “snub nose” enters the barracks. He tells Tyurin he is there to as why signatures from Buynovsky and Tsezar for wearing extra clothing that morning had not been turned in. Tyurin tells him that it’s difficult to get signatures from uneducated men, plus the guards had taken away their pens and ink. The guard then asks for Buynovsky, who is enjoying sausage and tea with Tsezar, and tells him that he is going to the cells for ten days for his crime that morning.
Just as Buynovsky and Tsezar begin to enjoy the contents of the parcel, the authorities step in and ruin their pleasure. Buynovsky and Tsezar are both educated men capable of writing their names, but Tyurin attempts to prevent their punishment by lying about their ability. Buynovsky’s pride in telling Volkovoy he was not acting like a Communist lands him ten days in the cells. He has not yet learned to passively resist the authorities like Shukhov and other experienced Zeks. Yet, it's worth noting, that Buynovsky was also right, and is being punished for his attachment and devotion to the tenets of communism!
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The call for the evening count rings out. Buynovsky wonders whether he should bring his coat and tobacco to the cells. He hadn't prepared for his sentence, as he’d been wishfully hoping that Volkovoy would forget about his crime that morning. Tsezar slips him a few cigarettes as he leaves. He bids his gang farewell, and some of the men tell him to keep his chin up, but they know where he is going, and they know it is not good.
As an inexperienced Zek, Buynovsky has not prepared for his stint in solitary. Tsezar and the rest of the gang sympathize with Buynovsky, showing a sense of camaraderie that stems from their shared oppression. By telling him to keep his head up, they mean to tell him not to let the punishment destroy his dignity.
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The barracks commander tells the men to get up and out for the count. Shukhov notes that he is one of the biggest bastards in the camp. He is an actual criminal, unlike so many others in the camp who were wrongly accused. He doesn't think twice about telling on the other Zeks, so the men leap up and begin to get dressed.
The barracks commander, who is a Zek, is a man with power despite the fact that he is a true criminal unlike the others. Shukhov suggests that he maintains his power by snitching on his fellow Zeks. His character shows the way in which some Zeks do sacrifice their dignity to attain power.
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As Shukhov gets his valenki on, notices the contents of Tsezar’s parcel are on his bunk. Shukhov notes that he should have taken the items directly to the storehouse before count, as now the contents are exposed and easy for other men to steal as they make their way back in after the count. Shukhov tells him to hide the parcel by the bunk, and stay back with the items telling the guards that he is sick. Shukhov volunteers to rush to be the first one out and therefor the first one back in to protect the items. He then pushes his way to the front of the line.
In this moment Shukhov’s relationship with Tsezar changes. Through the story, Tsezar has disregarded and ignored Shukhov, but now he needs Shukhov to help him protect the contents of the parcel. Shukhov does not necessarily do this out of a sense of camaraderie, but because it means Tsezar will have to pay him for it.
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Outside, the Zeks who were in line are shouting at the latecomers for moving slowly. Tsezar emerges shivering, pretending to be sick. He is sent to the rear of the column. The guards begin yelling at the men to form groups of five, and when the men don't budge they begin hitting people, but only the meek ones who won’t strike back.
The Zeks are frustrated with the others for wasting their time by moving slowly. Tsezar follows Shukhov’s direction by pretending to be sick, showing the way in which he needs Shukhov in this moment to protect his possessions. The fact that the guards are hitting the meek prisoners shows that those who are in power abuse those who are powerless, and also suggests the danger in being meek as a practice in spirituality.
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When the count is finished the men go back inside, happy to finally be free for the night—unless, of course, there is another count. Shukhov is not the first back in, but he watches for anyone messing with Tsezar’s parcel. He quickly puts his boots near the stove and goes back to his bunk, yelling at anyone who tries to move his boots. When Tsezar appears, he thanks Shukhov, and Shukhov pulls himself into bed for some bread and a cigarette before sleeping.
The continual threat of additional counts keeps the Zeks from enjoying the time that is supposed to be theirs. Shukhov’s need to bark at others for moving his boots reveals the competition in the camp. Shukhov does not demand Tsezar pay him for helping him protect his goods, as this would diminish his dignity.
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Not yet tired, Shukhov makes his bed, noting that it he hadn’t slept on sheets since 1941. He no longer sees a need for them, noting that laundering sheets is just extra work. Getting back into bed he prays, “Glory be to you, oh Lord. Another day over. Thank you I’m not spending the night in the cells. Here it is still bearable.” After the prayer, he sees Alyoshka on the adjacent bunk reading his bible.
The length of Shukhov’s stay in the camp has changed his perception of life outside the camp, and the amount of work he does daily has led to his disregard of any unnecessary work. Shukhov prays, showing that he does have faith in God, even though he does not practice his faith in his daily life.
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Alyoshka hears Shukhov’s prayer and turns to him. He tells Shukhov that he heard his soul begging, and asks why he doesn't give his soul freedom. Shukhov tells him prayers are like a Zek’s appeals, either they don't get through, or they are returned with a rejection scrawled across them. Alyoshka tells Shukhov his prayers go unanswered because he prays too rarely and with insufficient faith. He tells Shukhov he should not pray for earthly things but only for “his daily bread.” Shukhov asks if he means his ration, but Alyoshka explains he is talking about the bread that feeds the spirit.
Although Shukhov prays, he has no faith, and his understanding of God does not grant him the same happiness and freedom Alyoshka experiences. His lack of faith is shown by his description of prayer as unheard messages or requests returned with rejections. Alyoshka’s suggestion to pray only for his spiritual bread is a radical idea. As a man living in an environment where he must obsess and compete over the attainment of food, clothing and supplies—material bread—Shukov does not understand.
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Shukhov attempts to rebut Alyoshka’s message by telling him about a priest in his village who was the richest man in town. Alyoshka tells Shukhov he is not interested in the priest, as the Orthodox Church has departed from scripture. Shukhov tells Alyoshka that he does believe in God, but does not believe in heaven or hell, that the Baptists’ preaching about such matters bothers him. Shukhov continues by noting that no matter how much one prays, it will never shorten one’s sentence. Alyoshka tells Shukhov he should not pray for that either. He explains that the distractions of the free world will block and individual from God. He tells Shukhov he should rejoice that he is in prison.
Shukhov misses Alyoshka’s point, and continues to focus on the material world by telling about the priest’s wealth. Alyoshka sees the Orthodox church as another power like the Soviet regime, and discards Shukhov’s rebuttal. Shukhov is unable to accept the Baptists’ ideas of heaven and hell because he is trapped in the present by his circumstances, and heaven and hell are destinations in the future. Alyoshka continues his radical message by explaining that prison is the best place to experience spiritual liberation, as the material world offers too many distractions. This view allows Alyoshka’s gratitude for being imprisoned.
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Unable to respond, Shukhov stares at the ceiling. He doesn't know any longer whether he wants freedom or not. Even if he was released, he knew he’d be exiled. Freedom means one thing to Shukhov—home—and he would never be able to go back. Shukhov knows that Alyoshka is speaking truth, his attitude and actions proved it, but Shukhov is unable to submit to the idea that he is in the camp on behalf of Jesus Christ.
Shukhov’s silence suggests that Alyoshka’s message has impacted him. He knows that he will never be released from prison because he will never go home. The competition and oppression in the camp, however, prevent Shukhov from fully accepting Alyoshka’s way of life. He does not see it as a viable means of survival.
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Kildigs interrupts saying that it seems like there won’t be another count that night. Shukhov agrees and decides to go to bed, but as soon as he rolls over, the guards call another count. Shukhov curses the guards, and as he does, Tsezar hands up two biscuits, two limps of sugar and a piece of sausage. Shukhov thanks him and tells him to hand up his parcel to hide in Shukhov’s bed.
The irony of Kildig’s comment, followed immediately by another count shows the depth of the men’s oppression—they can never predict what will happen. Tsezar pays Shukhov for helping him protect his goods and Shukhov thanks him, showing that a sense of camaraderie can emerge, even though Shukhov’s motives were selfish.
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The count goes smoothly, and Shukhov returns to bed. He hands Tsezar’s parcel back to him. As Alyoshka enters the room Shukhov notes that his problem is that he is impractical, that he does everything for free without asking for anything in return. Shukhov hands a biscuit to Alyoshka, who takes it and eats it. Then Shukhov eats the piece of sausage Tsezar gave him, and goes to bed.
Shukhov does not see Alyoshka’s way of life as practical, and in fact he understands the dangers of being meek in the camp. By giving Alyoshka a piece of bread, however, he proves himself wrong. Alyoshka does not need to beg, steal, or connive to survive in the camp. By giving Alyoshka a piece of bread without expecting anything in return, Alyoshka’s way of life suddenly becomes viable. Shukhov’s action likewise shows that he has been influenced by Alyoshka’s message, and may be open to changing his worldview.
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Shukhov goes to bed that night feeling fully content. His day had been a lucky one, he’d procured himself food, worked hard and enjoyed it, bought tobacco, and smuggled a piece of metal back into the camp. He’d fallen ill that morning, but had overcome it. The narrator explains that it was an “almost happy day”, but concludes by noting that there would be three thousand six hundred and fifty-three more to go. Three extra days for the leap years in-between.
Shukhov’s day was successful because the camp did not strip his identity or devastate his dignity, and through his work he was even able to increase these things. Although it is not explicitly stated, his altruistic act of giving to Alyoshka seems to have added to his contentment—instead of feeling he has lost something through giving, he feels contented. The narrator’s final comment quickly brings the reality of Shukhov’s situation back to the forefront. The narrator reminds the reader that all of the struggles of the novel occurred in a single day, and Shukhov must endure thousands more before being released. This final moment reveals the enormity of the situation these men endure and the immense struggle for freedom from the powers that oppression them. And the focus on the three extra days for leap years emphasizes just how difficult getting through each single day is.
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Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
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