One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Section 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The guards typically search the prisoners quickly, simply making sure they are not carrying extra rations to eat should they try to escape, letters, or unregulated clothing. In the past they’d taken everybody’s rations and put the food into a single box to be carried out to work. The Zeks would worry that their ration would be given to someone else, which caused great turmoil among the gangs, pitting even friends against one anther. This stopped, however, after some prisoners stole a work vehicle and the collected rations during an escape. But today, since Volkovoy is present, they command the prisoners to lift their jackets and unbutton their shirts to search for extra clothing.
The typical searches are quick, suggesting that the guards have the capacity to be lenient with the Zeks, but Volkovoy’s presence changes that, as the abuse of power is inherent in his character. Interestingly, the camp, which is designed to create a collective communist atmosphere, actually creates competition among the Zeks by establishing absurd rules, such as taking their bread in the morning, which completely backfires in the end.
Themes
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
Shukhov welcomes the search knowing that he is not hiding anything. He notes that beneath his jacket is a human chest, and beneath that, his soul. They discover that Tsezar and Buynovsky are wearing unregulated clothing. When the guards mark him down, Buynovsky tells them it’s against article 9 of the Criminal Code. The guards don’t care what the code says, and tell him he doesn't know the law. He tells the guards and Volkovoy they are not acting like communists. Volkovoy gives him ten days in the cells for the comment, which will start after the workday, as not to lose a laborer for the day.
Shukhov’s surrender to the search and mention of his soul suggests that his identity and dignity is something that the guards cannot take from him. Buynovsky’s retaliation after the guards marks him down shows that he is a novice Zek and does not understand the power the guards hold over him. The guards hold power in the camp, and their overt sense of power makes them exempt from the laws of the criminal code.
Themes
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
After the search, the cold has gotten beneath the Zeks’ clothing and is there to stay. Shukhov notices his back is aching and he wishes he could be in the camp infirmary covered in blankets. As the prisoners button up their clothing, the guard yells for them to begin moving. They move, “like a flock of sheep” and are halted by the first gate to be counted. The guards light a fire by the gate to keep themselves warm and provide light to count the prisoners. The prisoners are counted again at the second gate as well. None of the guards dare make a mistake, as that would mean they’d have to work with the Zeks for the day.
The cold is an oppressive power in the lives of those in the camp, including the guards. The men are compared to “sheep” here and to other animals through out the novel, showing the way in which the camp removes their humanity and human dignity, making them more like animals. Although guards possess power in the camp, they, like the Zeks, risk punishment and work, suggesting that although they possess a feeling of ultimate power, there are conditions under which they are powerless.
Themes
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
The prisoners begin marching with the guards surrounding them with guns, pointing guns in their faces. Some of the guards walk dogs that bear their teeth at the prisoners. The guards all wear sheepskin coats. Some wear long coats that were not claimed by those manning the watchtowers.
The guards, too, are equated to sheep here, showing that they are not, in fact, all that superior to the Zeks. They are also “sheep” in the sense that they follow orders without question, even though their orders may be immoral.
Themes
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
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Buynovsky explains that the air is always coldest at sunrise. Buynovsky, who was a naval captain, is fond of explaining things. The narrator notes that Buynovsky is fading under the stress of the camp and it is visible in cheeks, which are sunken, but he has guts.
Buynovsky’s transformation shows the way in which the camp changes the prisoners’ identities. Buynovsky was a respected naval captain, but his social standing outside of the camp is no good to him in the Gulag. He does, however, retain some of his identity and principles from his past life, which Shukhov notes give him “guts” and will be assets during his time in the camp.
Themes
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
The chief escort guard recites the “morning prayer”, as Shukhov calls it, while the group marches. The “prayer” is a list of marching orders, with a warning that any prisoner who steps out of line will be shot.
Shukhov calls the marching orders a prayer, showing the way in which religious faith is replaced by the authority of the Soviet Government, which viewed religion as a threat to its cause.
Themes
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
It hasn't snowed for a week and the path is flattened, which causes the wind to lash at the men’s’ faces. The prisoners tie thin pieces of cloth over their faces to provide a barrier form the cold. From time to time the guards yell at the prisoners, “U48, hands behind your back!” or “B502, Keep up!” As they carry on, however, the guards stop shouting because of the cold. The guards are not allowed to wear anything on their faces, and Shukhov recognizes that the guards’ job is not easy either.
Although the guards hold the most power within the camp, they experience oppression from other outside forces, such as the weather and the Soviet government. They, like the Zeks, are forced for follow absurd rules, like not wearing facemasks in the bitter cold, which, as Shukhov notes, make their lives difficult.
Themes
Power and Authority Theme Icon
The prisoners sink into their thoughts on the walk to work, and Shukhov notes that a prisoner’s thoughts are imprisoned like the prisoners themselves. Shukhov’s thoughts continue to go to the same places: would the guards the food hidden in his mattress? Would he have any luck with the doctors that night? Would they put Buynovsky in the prison? He is hungry, and to draw his focus away from the ache, he thinks about a letter he will soon be sending home.
Because a Zek is constantly competing for the things he needs to survive, he has no time to thing about anything in the past or future. Their minds are incarcerated in the present as they work to survive. The present, however, is not kind either, as it holds the pain of hunger, so Shukhov moves his thoughts elsewhere, which offers some solace.
Themes
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon