One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Section 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kolya hands Shukhov a thermometer. Shukhov puts the thermometer in his armpit, and while he waits, he notices the silence of the space. There are no mice scratching because the cat has killed them all. There isn’t even a clock in the room. He reflects that prisoners are not allowed to carry watches—the guards tell the time for them. Shukhov dreams about being prescribed bed rest for two or three weeks, but knows this wish is futile since the new doctor, Stepan Grigorich, does not allow sick inmates to rest. Stepan believes that work is the best remedy for any illness. Shukhov knows, however, that if the doctor went out to work with the men, he’d quickly change his mind.
The clean, white and quiet space offers a contrast to the sordid conditions of the camp, showing the privileges enjoyed by those in power. The lack of a clock represents the way time is taken from the Zeks, literally as a form of oppression in the camp, and symbolically in the fact that the men are serving “time”. Shukhov’s comment about the doctor’s remedy shows the disconnect between the Zeks and those in power.
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Shukhov watches Kolya as he continues to write, but is unaware that he is writing poetry. He wonders why the medical director is writing in such a strange way, starting each line with a capital letter. Kolya was studying literature in college before being arrested. The medical director advised him to describe himself as a medical assistant and taught him to give intravenous injections on the “ignorant prisoners”, who would never know he didn’t have a medical background. The doctor wanted him to write in the prison what he never had the chance to write in school.
Shukhov’s ignorance surrounding Kolya’s poetry reveals his class and education level. Kolya’s character keeps art alive in the harsh world of the Gulag system, and because of the oppressive forces in Russia, he must lie about his profession to continue maintaining his identity as an artist. Again, the role of art is critiqued, as Kolya’s is set apart from the “ignorant prisoners” and his art distracts him from the real needs of the people he is supposed to care for.
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Kolya tells Shukhov the thermometer reads 99.2 and that if it were 100 he would be able to exempt Shukhov from work. He tells Shukhov that if he wants he can wait for the doctor to examine him, but if the doctor does not excuse him from work, he will be locked up in the cells. Shukhov decides its better to work sick than be punished in the cells, so he leaves.
Shukhov’s temperature is close to providing him an exemption from work, but because of the arbitrary rules in the camp he does not qualify and must work in the cold.
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Shukhov passes back through the camp, which is empty now. Everyone is waiting indoors for work, pretending that they will not be called out. The guards are in their warm quarters, but even they will be subjected to the cold once the workday starts. In barracks 7, where gang 104 resides, the prisoners lay on their beds waiting for the march to work. Pavlo is up writing something, and Alyosha is reading from a hand written copy the New Testament.
This passage shows the way in which both the Zeks and guards are powerless over the larger oppressive conditions in Soviet Russia. Although the guards are warm before work, they will have to join the Zeks in the cold during the day. The way the prisoners spend the free moments before work speaks to their individual identities. Pavlo is writing, presumably doing work to assure that his gang is cared for, and Alyoshka is reading his bible, devoting his free time to God.
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Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
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Pavlo calls Shukhov by his patronymic, Ivan Denisovich, when he notices he wasn’t sent to solitary confinement. Pavlo hands him his food rations for the day. Shukhov holds it in his hand estimating the weight. He decides his bread is half an ounce short, but is not surprised because it is always short. He decides to take half to work, putting it into his pocket, and sews the other half into his mattress. He must hide it because guards have been known to steal from the prisoners’ lockers.
The Soviet Regime worked to eliminate patronymic names, as they suggested a class system the Soviets sought to eliminate. Pavlo’s calling Shukhov by his patronymic is a small act of resistance, suggesting he has not surrendered to the Soviet power. Shukhov’s lack of surprise at his short ration and the way he rations his own bread to last the day shows that he is an experienced Zek, and has learned what to expect and how to survive during his time in the camp.
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Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
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Shukhov overhears Alyosha reciting from the bible. He reads, “If you suffer, it must not be for murder, theft, or sorcery…if anyone suffers as a Christian, he should feel it no disgrace, but confess that name to the honor of God.” Alyosha hides his bible in a chink in the wall, and the guards have never found it.
Alyoshka builds his identity upon his Christian beliefs, allowing him to view his time in the camp as a burden he bears for God. He hides his bible in the same way Shukhov hides his bread, suggesting that Alyoshka’s bible is a means of survival, his source of “spiritual bread”.
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Tyurin calls the men out for work. He has been imprisoned for nineteen years, and never calls his squad out to work a moment before it is necessary. Shukhov puts his shoes and jacket on, and then fastens a length of rope around his waist—leather belts are outlawed in “special” camps. The worst time of the day for the Zeks is going out for morning count with a hungry belly, knowing you had the whole day of work before you. The gang is lined up in their usual spot, which signifies they have escaped the Socialist Way of Life Settlement for the day. One of the poorer squads will be sent to work there. A squad needed to provide salted pork to their leader and the planning board to escape certain work assignments.
Tyurin, a long-term inmate himself, is the squad leader, but unlike others in power he understands the struggles of being in the camp and lets the men stay in as long as possible. The Zeks suffer when thinking of any time but the present, which makes the morning especially painful because of the hours of work ahead. The men compete for job assignments, and the gang with the most commodities wins. Because Tyurin has pork to offer the officials, gang 104 escapes the Socialist Way of Life Camp.
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Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
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One of the men from Shukhov’s gang is staying back sick. The prisoners know he is not sick, but is being held back to squeal on others. The guards had made arrangements with the doctors to hold him back, and after the gangs go out to work they will pull him in to get information.
Snitching on your comrades is one of the greatest sins in the camp, and the definition of the loss of dignity. Snitching is one way in which prisoners attain extra privileges, and the guards use these men to attain info that allows them to maintain their power over the prisoners.
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While waiting, Shukhov remembers that he needs to get the numbers on his jacked touched up. Faded numbers could lead to harsh punishment. He gets in line to have one of the camp’s three artists repaint them. He watches the artists hand move, comparing his movements to a priest anointing a parishioner’s brow.
By comparing the artist to a priest, Shukhov makes a connection between art and redemption. Note that unlike Kolya’s art, which is removed from the real struggles of the Zeks, the artist is in direct contact with the prisoners. In fact, he is saving them from punishment by repainting their numbers.
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After his numbers are repainted, Shukhov goes back to stand with his gang. He notices that Tsezar is smoking a cigarette and the desire he feels for it is stronger than the desire for freedom itself. Fetyukov, “the jackal” as Shukhov refers to him, is eyeing the cigarette too. Shukhov, however, does not stare like Fetyukov. He would never lower himself to look at another man’s mouth. Fetyukov asks Tsezar for a puff of the cigarette, which bothers Tsezar because the request interrupted his thoughts. He turns and hands the cigarette to Shukhov, telling him to finish it.
Fetyukov’s character represents the loss of one’s dignity in the camp. He is a scrounger and beggar, which Shukhov, as a rigorously principled man, detests. Shukhov’s strong principles, like never looking at another man’s mouth, preserve his dignity. Shukhov, the man who does not beg or stare receives the cigarette over Fetyukov, suggesting his principles are beneficial in the camp.
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When the count starts someone informs the gang they are stripping the prisoners’ undershirts. Shukhov is not surprised, as this is the life of a prisoner, but wonders why they are taking the undershirts since the camp commandant issued them. The reason is the camp disciplinary officer, Volkovoy, is doing searches this morning. Volkovoy is feared by the prisoners, the guards, and it is rumored, even the camp commandant. He used to carry a whip with him that he used to lash prisoners who got out of line, just to watch them bleed.
Volkovoy is the example of the way in which power leads to abuse, especially the abuse of those who are powerless. Volkovoy’s sense of power leads to a thirst for more power, which he generates through fear causes by his sadistic whippings.
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