When the prisoners arrive at the work site the guards line them up for another count. Inside of the camp the superintendent stands near the office with, Der, a civilian super intendant. Shukhov notes that Der is a true criminal, unlike other men in the camp who were wrongly accused. Der was assigned to be a foreman and treated the prisoners like dogs.
The count keeps the men in the cold as they wait for work, another excessive show of authority. Der’s character shows the unjust nature of the camp. Although he is a true criminal unlike the other wrongly accused men, his is given a position of power, which he abuses and treats the men like dogs.
The Zeks enter the site, and each person picks up a scrap of firewood to bring back to the camp with them to burn that evening for warmth. The squad leaders go to the office to get their orders for the day. Tyurin calls Pavlo to go with him to the office, and Tsezar follows. Tsezar is well off, and had paid the authorities to give him a job as an assistant to the inspector.
The resourceful Zeks pick up the scraps of wood, knowing that supplies are short and constantly being competed for. Tsezar attains his position through payment, showing the disregard for the soviet ideal of collectivization and the presence of capitalism in the camp.
The moment between arrival and the leaders returning with the work orders belong to the prisoners. There had been talk of assigning the work orders the night before to save time, but this plan had fallen aside. The 104th go into the repair shop where the 38th is already at work pouring slabs of concrete. There is a fire inside the room, not to keep the prisoners warm, but to help the slabs set faster. The 38th are already surrounding the fire, and won’t let any stranger get near its warmth, so Shukhov takes a seat by the wall.
The way the plan to set work orders at night has fallen to the side suggests that the authorities value time just like they Zeks, as they are all oppressed. The fact that the stove is only burning to help the slabs set shows the way work is valued over the Zeks’ wellbeing. The 38th’s unwillingness to share the stove shows the intense competition in the camp.
Shukhov 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. His belly, however, is hungry and the pain moves into his legs, making him feel weak. He unwraps the bread, finding it has been kept warm by his body heat, and begins nibbling away at it.
The fact that Shukhov always brings the same amount of bread and never eats it before dinner reveals the strict principles that help him survive in the camp. This day, however, he eats it, showing that even the most principled Zek must sometimes submit to the hunger forced upon him in the camp.
Shukhov recalls the way that he used to eat in his village before being incarcerated—pots of potatoes, pans of oatmeal, big chunks of meat, and plenty of milk. He’d learned in the camp, however, that that was not the way to eat. One should be mindful of his food while he eats. He reflects on how little he’d eaten over the last eight years, but quickly notes how much work he had completed.
His perception of his past eating habits shows the way that the camp has changed his identity over time. It has allowed him to appreciate the little he receives. By focusing on the amount of work he has done, he redeems his dignity, which is constantly threatened by his hunger.
He sits on 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 men are always together, they eat together, sleep adjacent to one another and talk to one another during the march.
The two Estonians show a sense of camaraderie based on their shared national identities, language, and customs. Their bond suggests that the camp has been unsuccessful in destroying their histories and identities.
As the prisoners sit around, Shukhov watches Fetyukov walk around collecting cigarette butts, which he breaks apart and rolls into a piece of paper. Fetyukov would even collect them out of the spittoon. His family had left him after he was imprisoned, and his wife had remarried, leaving with no help from outside of the camp.
Fetyukov’s character shows the way in which the camp robs the Zeks of their dignities. The mention of the loss of his family allows the reader to sympathize with him as a man completely alone and disconnected from his past.
Buynovsky tells Fetyukov to stop picking up the cigarette butts, that he is going to catch diseases that way. Buynovsky was a captain before being incarcerated, and he is used to barking orders at others. Fetyukov tells Buynovsky to wait until he had been imprisoned for eight years and see if he too wasn’t scrounging for cigarettes.
Buynovsky retains his identity as a captain, although it doesn't do him much good in the camp. Fetyukov tells Buynovsky that time in the camp will destroy his dignity, just as it has destroyed Fetyukov’s.
Senka, who is deaf, speaks up, thinking the men are talking about Buynovsky’s bad luck that morning when Volkovoy caught him with extra layers on. He tells Buynovsky that he shouldn’t have shown so much pride as to tell Volkovoy he wasn’t acting like a Soviet. If you show too much pride, he says, you are done for. In the camp, it is better to submit, for if you resist the guards will break you.
As Senka suggests, Buynovsky’s identity and pride is not necessarily an asset in the camp. Buynovsky’s outward pride is dangerous, as the guards work to beat pride out of the prisoners, while maintaining an inward pride and dignity is essential for survival.
The 104th continues waiting for Tyurin and Pavlo to return. Someone mentions that they haven’t gotten a snowstorm yet that winter. The squad sighs, wishing one would come. The men do not go out to work during snowstorms, not because of the danger of someone freezing to death, but because it’s an opportunity for prisoners to escape. Some had escaped during storms, but had never made it far. The snowstorms, while they provide a day off from work, trap the prisoners in the barracks without heat and with little food. Either way, the days of work they missed were made up on Sundays.
The reason work is canceled during snowstorms is not for the safety of the Zeks, but because the authorities don't want people escaping, showing the authorities disregard for the wellbeing of the prisoners. Even though snow days are not pleasant, the Zeks wish for one. This wish is based on their attention to the moment. They are not concerned about making the day up later in the week, they only wish they did not have to work that day.