The year is 1951, a new year, and Shukhov has the right to sent two letters home. The last letter he sent was in July and he’d received a response in October. At the first camp where Shukhov was imprisoned, he was able to write once a month, but even so, he didn't write any more then than he does now. He’d left home in 1941, and at that time, news of the war had come through those who traveled out of town for church on Sunday. There were no radios when Shukhov left home, but through the letters he’d received, he knew that there was a radio in every home.
The camp separates the men from their families and communities by limiting the number of letters they can send. The mention of radios shows the way that the world has changed during the time Shukhov has been gone. Getting the news at church used to be an important part of Russian lives, but now everyone has a radio, which lessens the importance of religious practice in the community as it has been replaced by modern technology.
Shukhov reflects that there is little reason to write home. Sending letters is like dropping a stone into a deep bottomless pool. They have little to write about since they can't write home about the squad or the squad leaders. While incarcerated, Shukhov has more to talk about with the other prisoners than his family.
The isolation of the camp and the monotony of his days leaves Shukhov little to write home about. His analogy about letters being like stones dropped into a bottomless pool shows this isolation. Because of the isolation and disconnection from his family, the gang is more like a family than the people he was separated from.
The letters he gets from his family also do little to inform him of what is happening outside of the camp. The Kolkhoz, a collective farm settlement where his wife and family live, is under new management, the farm has amalgamated with another farm, and the farmers are failing to meet their quotas. All of these things are not surprising to Shukhov, they have all happened before.
Shukhov references the impoverished conditions present in Soviet Russia. His comments show the way in which over time the conditions of communism have not benefited the people stands as a critique of Stalin’s ideologies.
Shukhov does not understand how the population of the community has not grown, despite the push for communism. The young men and women have escaped to go work in factories, and the men who survived the war returned to the Kolkhoz, but work outside of the settlement on the side, working for themselves not the collective good. His wife had written that some of the men had discovered a new craft, “carpet dying”. These men had brought stencils back from the war and painted on cheap cloth to make them into carpets. Shukhov’s wife hopes he will take up the craft, but Shukhov finds this idea insulting. He feels that carpet dying is dishonest easy money, and he’d rather use his skill, work hard, and feel like he’s made an honest wage.
Shukhov’s mention of the community’s stagnant population shows the way in which the soviet project is failing. The men and women do not work for the collective good, but pursue jobs that benefit themselves outside of the community, a direct contradiction to the communist ideal. The carpet dying job is a capitalist venture, as it does no good for the state. Shukhov’s pride in his work ethic and skills leads to his denunciation of the carpet dying job altogether.
The men arrive at work just as the sun is rising in a red haze. Shukhov sees Alyosha smiling as he looks up at the sun. He wonders what Alyosha has to smile about, his face is sunken, he is living off or scraps for rations, and he earns nothing for his work. He spends his day off worshiping with the other Baptists in the camp.
Red is the national color of Soviet Russia, and the allusion to the color of the sun at the Zeks’ arrival at work connects the men’s work to Soviet project. Alyoshka’s faith allows him to find happiness in his harsh conditions, which intrigues Shukhov. Although he doesn't understand it, he unconsciously connects it to Alyoshka’s worship on Sundays.
Shukhov looks to Tyurin, the leader of the squad. Tyurin, is serving his second term, and knows the ways of the camp through and through. Tyurin takes pains to see that his squad has the best rations possible. In prison camps, a squad leader is everything: a good one means survival, but a bad one means death. Shukhov knew Tyurin in the first camp where he was detained. When the political prisoners were transferred under article 58, Tyurin picked Shukhov to be in his squad. The squad leader protects his gang, and in return the gang follows the leaders orders.
Although Tyurin is in a position of power, he is a prisoner too, and understands the life of imprisonment. His time in the Gulag system allows him to make good decisions on behalf of his men. A sense of camaraderie has emerged between Tyurin and the gang because he cares for them. Tyurin’s past friendship and knowledge of Shukhov’s skills and work ethic led him to pick Shukhov when they were transferred.
Shukhov wishes to ask Tyurin where they will be working today, but he does not want to interrupt Tyurin, as 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 without showing any sign of fatigue.
While Shukhov is concerned about his own day and where they will work, Tyurin is thinking about the men in his gang, showing his dedication to them. Shukhov’s description of Tyurin suggests he respects him as a hardy, but similarly damaged Zek.