One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

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Bread Symbol Icon
A Zek’s life revolves around the attainment of bread. In a physical sense, bread is the main source of sustenance for the prisoners, and their skimpy bread rations allow them to survive on a daily basis. But survival in the camp goes deeper than the attainment of physical bread. The maintenance of ones identity, principals and dignity is another essential element of a Zek’s survival. In this way, the obsession with bread is destructive, as it causes prisoners to sacrifice their dignity and principals in the process of attaining bread. In a metaphorical sense, however, bread symbolizes spiritual sustenance that comes through preserving one’s dignity. Alyoshka recommends Shukhov ask God only for his “daily bread”, an allusion to the Lord’s Prayer, in which bread represents spiritual sustenance. In moving away from the obsession with bread in a physical sense, a Zek is able to find liberation from the physical circumstances in which he lives. This idea plays out at the end of the novel when Shukhov offers Alyoshka a biscuit without expecting anything in return. Shukhov’s sense of joy in the final moments of the novel are connected to his movement away from physical bread toward the idea of bread as a symbol of spiritual nourishment, suggesting that spiritual bread may be the truest form of sustenance available to a prisoner.

Bread Quotes in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

The One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bread. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Power and Authority Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the New American Library edition of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich published in 2008.
Section 12 Quotes

Even eight years as a convict hadn’t turned him into a jackal—and the longer he spent at the camp the stronger he made himself.

Related Characters: Ivan Denisovich Shukhov
Related Symbols: Bread, Tsezar’s Parcel
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs when Shukhov delivers Tsezar's bread ration. Shukhov, having stood in line to receive Tsezar's ration while he went to see if a parcel had arrived for himself, arrives at Tsezar's bunk and sees him surrounded by various foods. Having received a bountiful parcel, Tsezar tells Shukhov to keep his ration of bread.

Instead of directly asking Tsezar whether his parcel arrived or not--for this would give a hint that Shukhov held Tsezar's place in line in order to have rights to part of his parcel--he simply says: "Your bread, Tsezar Markovich." After Shukhov refrains from asking about the parcel directly, the narrator explains that "even eight years as a convict hadn't turned him into a jackal." 

Shukhov's ulterior motive for standing in line for Tsezar, however self-interested, is counterbalanced in this scene by Shukhov's dignity in respecting Tsezar's right to his own parcel. Shukhov doesn't pressure Tsezar into giving him anything; he doesn't behave like a desperate, starving "jackal" (a kind of small wild dog). Instead, he gladly accepts Tsezar's bread ration. Further, the narrator reveals that prison hasn't eroded Shukhov's principles of self-conduct--prison hasn't made him into a meaner, rougher, or more aggressive person. Rather, prison has been a place where Shukhov has strengthened his sense of self-control.

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Bread Symbol Timeline in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

The timeline below shows where the symbol Bread appears in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section1 (Shukhov wakes up to Kolya taking Shukhov’s temperature)
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
...foreman, Pavlo, and the foreman, Tyurin, getting out of bed. Pavlo goes off to the bread storage room, and Tyurin goes to the Production Planning Department. Shukhov realizes that the fate... (full context)
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
...hears another guard grumbling about how the gang should have received four twenty-five-ounce loaves of bread, but he was only given three. Meanwhile, Shukhov hears Alyosha murmuring his prayers. (full context)
Section 2 (Kolya takes Shukhov’s Temperature to Volkovoy’s search)
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Section 4 (The story of Shukhov leaving home to arrival at the work site)
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
...he is most likely thinking about the gang’s percentages, which will determine the amount of bread the group will be allotted. Tyurin’s face is pockmarked, and he walks into the wind... (full context)
Section 5 (The arrival at the work site to the beginning of work)
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
...feels something sharp pressing against his chest and remembers he has hidden a piece of bread there. He always brought the same amount with him, but never touched it until dinnertime.... (full context)
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
...the same side of the room as his fellow gang members and nibbles at his bread. The two Estonians sit beside him sharing a cigarette from the same holder. These two... (full context)
Section 6 (The beginning of work to news of the murdered stool pigeons)
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
...this money goes to the higher-ups, while the Zeks got an extra six ounces of bread, at best. (full context)
Section 7 (The news of the murdered stoop pigeons to Tyurin’s story)
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
...is easier since you go home once your shift is over, plus prisoners received more bread. (full context)
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
...standing in front of Pavlo, eyeing the extra bowls. He takes out the piece of bread he’d stored in his pocket that morning and cleans the edge of his bowl with... (full context)
Section 8 (Tyurin’s story to the end of the work day)
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
...being kicked out of the army, he sold what rags he had and bought some bread “under the table” as the government had already started rationing. He was unable to buy... (full context)
Section 10 (Arrival at the camp to Tsezar’s arrival at the parcel room)
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
...smuggle it through, will be very profitable for him, it would be as good as bread. He slips it into his right mitten. (full context)
Section 11 (Tsezar’s arrival at the parcel room to the purchase of the tobacco)
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
When he arrives in the barracks, the place is in an uproar. Someone’s bread ration had been stolen during the day. Shukhov hides the piece of metal he’d taken... (full context)
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
...the table so the best bowls are facing him. Kildigs arrives with a tray of bread, which is distributed based on the amount of work the men completed. Some are given... (full context)
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
...the servers snakes for the tricks they play on their fellow Zeks. He saves his bread for the morning, although he is still hungry, noting that a Zeks stomach is a... (full context)
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
...bowl, but brings his spoon all the way up to his mouth. U81 places his bread on a clean piece of rag instead of the dirty table. Shukhov notes that he... (full context)
Section 12 (The purchase of the tobacco to Shukhov’s going to bed)
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Power and Authority Theme Icon
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
...boots. When Tsezar appears, he thanks Shukhov, and Shukhov pulls himself into bed for some bread and a cigarette before sleeping. (full context)
Identity, Principles, and Dignity Theme Icon
Competition vs. Camaraderie Theme Icon
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
...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... (full context)