Before the gates, the guards demanded the prisoners drop the wood they’d brought back. Some men would have liked to keep a few pieces, but their fellows told them to drop it as not to hold up the count. The narrator notes that a Zeks greatest enemy is a fellow Zek, but if they could get along it would make a huge difference in their quality of life.
The men are forced to choose between holding onto the wood and wasting more time, which speaks to the extent of their oppression. The men are constantly competing against one another, but if they could work together, they have the potential to be a greater power than the authorities in the camp.
At the gates, the guards come outside from their quarters where they were already getting warm. They command the prisoners to unbutton their coats and jackets. The narrator notes that unbuttoning your jacket isn’t so bad when you are “going home”. Everyone calls the camp “home” because there is no time to think about any other home.
The authorities are privileged with extra time to warm up before the count. The men call the camp home because they are completely disconnected from their pasts and their families. Their strict work schedules leave them no time to think about anything but their present situations in the camp.
As the search begins, Shukhov tells Tsezar he will go wait at the parcel room and save his place in line. Tsezar tells him that there may be no parcel, but Shukhov offers to go anyway—if Tsezar has no parcel he can sell his place in line to another Zek. Tsezar agrees and tells Shukhov to wait no more than ten minutes for him.
It appears Shukhov is offering to wait in line out of camaraderie, but his self-seeking motives suggest otherwise. He is offering his service in hopes of receiving payment.
Shukhov steps fearlessly up to be searched, believing he has nothing on him. Out of habit, he reaches into his pocket, just to make sure there is nothing there. He discovers the piece of metal he’d found at the work site. He quickly decides it’s better to keep the blade and risk the ten-day punishment for being caught. The blade, should he smuggle it through, will be very profitable for him, it would be as good as bread. He slips it into his right mitten.
By forgetting the piece of metal, Shukhov’s limitation is relieved. Although he is a strictly principled and disciplined man, he is still capable of making mistakes. He decides to attempt to smuggle it in because the food it would provide for him outweighs the threat of punishment.
Shukhov takes off his mittens and unbuttons his coat, stepping forward more willing than usual in attempt to appear innocent. The guard pats his jacket down, and grabs the empty mitten and crushes it in his hand. In a panic, Shukhov says a desperate prayer, “Oh Lord, save me. Don't let them send me to the cells.” Just as the guard reaches out for the second glove, his chief yells for him to hurry up, and he pushes Shukhov along.
Although Shukhov often disregards Alyoshka’s religious beliefs, he prays as the guard checks his glove, suggesting that he does have some faith. As if by divine providence, the guard is called away. This occurrence suggests that there is power in prayer and belief in God.
Shukhov runs to catch up with the rest of the members of his gang who had lined up in a corridor, like “horse stalls in a market”, to wait for another count. While they wait, the guards call out the Moldovan who’d fallen asleep. They are going to charge him with attempting to escape, which entails a severe punishment. The count before entering the camp at night was the hardest for the Zeks. They are freezing and famished, and know a bowl of soup awaits them, and that bowl of soup is “dearer to them than freedom, dearer than life itself, past, present, and future.”
Shukhov’s description of the corridor depicts the way in which the Zek’s are treated like animals in the camp. The fact that the guards are going to charge the Moldovan man with attempting to escape when he had simply fallen asleep shows the abuse of power by those with authority. The importance of the bowl of food shows the way in which the attainment of food is a Zek’s primary focus, and limits their ability to think about anything else, past, present or future.
After passing through the count, Shukhov hurries off to the parcel room. Tyurin must stay behind to report the day’s work. Tsezar walks calmly toward the notice posted in the camp alerting prisoner whether they’d received a package. The line at the parcel room is long, and Shukhov suspects it will be an hour wait, which means Tsezar will receive his parcel just in time to go to bed.
Although Tyurin is in a position of power in his gang, he must spend his evening reporting to the authorities. Tsezar has a different kind of privilege because he receives commodities to pay his way into power, which is shown by his calm strut toward the parcel list. He doesn't have to worry about eating, or attaining other rations, because he lives off of his parcels.
Upon entering the parcel room, Shukhov imagines someone coming up to tell him that a parcel has arrived for him. Even though he had decided to tell his wife to stop sending parcels to save the money to take care of his family, his heart aches knowing there is nothing there for him. He notes that even if he did receive a parcel, the guards would take their cut right away leaving him with only a tiny portion of its original contents.
Parcels are a connection to the outside world, and Shukhov’s wish for a parcel reveals his desire to have some connection to his past. His decision to tell his wife to stop sending parcels shows that he cares about his family, and feels guilty about his inability to care for them. He knows that receiving parcels is wasteful because the guards keep most of the contents by the time they have taken their cuts. Just as Shukov sacrifices for his work gang, he sacrifices for his family.
In line, Shukhov overhears some other men saying that they will be put to work on Sunday. The narrator explains the guards hate seeing the prisoners napping after breakfast on Sundays. Other Zeks come into the parcel room and elbow their ways to the front of the lines, they are privileged because they have “indoor jobs” and the prisoners who work outdoors are lesser than them.
The guards abuse their power by forcing the men to work on their days off. Their hatred of seeing the Zeks at rest suggests they exert their power simply because they can, showing the way in which a sense of power leads to the oppression of the powerless. The men who have indoor jobs are privileged because they can afford to pay off the guards, which conflicts with the communist ideal. This is just another way that this camp meant to turn men into good communists in fact does the opposite.