Tyurin returns with a gloomy look on his face. The men immediately know they have been transferred to work on a half completed power station—the work had been halted on the building in the late autumn. He splits the gang into groups, one group to get boxes to mix the mortar, another to get the tools, and others are sent to get the stove started, and get sand and water for the mortar. The only two left after Tyurin’s assignments are Shukhov and Kildigs, who are the skilled workers in the squad. He tells them they will be laying blocks after dinner. In the meantime, they were to figure out how to keep the room warm. He would have said more, but before he can finish, Gopchik approaches and tells Tyurin that another gang is hogging the boxes and there is an argument going on over it. Tyurin leaves with Gopchik.
The fact that the men are assigned to work on a power station is fraught with irony. Not only will the men pour their own energy into the power station and reap no benefits from their work, they are also powerless over the guards and political system that force them to work on the power station in the first place. Because of their skills, Shukhov and Kildigs receive a better assignment than the other men, showing that one’s skills are beneficial when it comes to the workday. Gopchik’s news of the other gang hogging the boxes shows the way that the gangs compete for resources, even while they are supposed to be working for the good of the state.
Shukhov and Kildigs look at one another. They had come to respect one another because they were both skilled tradesmen. Finding materials to block the windows in the power plant is no easy matter, but Kildigs tells Shukhov he has hidden a role of roofing felt that would work. Kildigs is a Latvian, but he speaks Russian very well. He’d learned as a child by a group of “Old Believers” that lived near his childhood home.
A sense of camaraderie develops between Shukhov and Kildigs based on their shared identity as skilled workers. The competition for resources makes their task difficult, but as an experienced Zek, Kildigs has hidden materials in advance. Kildigs was taught Russian by a group of “Old Believers”, who were a group of Russian Orthodox individuals who resisted the push to align Russian beliefs with Greek Orthodox traditions. This link to Kildigs past connects him to a tradition of resistance toward the homogenizing powers, which is reflected in his resistance to the Soviet Regime.
Before going to get the felt, Shukhov goes off to retrieve a trowel he’d hidden at the last worksite. After work each day, the Zeks are supposed to return the tools used during the workday, but Shukhov had fooled the guard at the workhouse and had kept the best trowel for himself.
Shukhov’s experienced and cunning identity allows him to survive in the camp and do better than many of his fellow prisoners as they compete for resources.
Shukhov and Kildigs walk to where the felt is hidden. The sun is up, but hidden behind thick clouds. Two rays of light fall toward the earth on either side of it. Shukhov tells Kildigs they look like poles. Kildigs replies they are not the kinds of poles they need to worry about, unless they put barbed wire between them. Kildigs is known for making jokes, and is popular among the gang because of it.
The image of the sun’s rays as poles and Kildigs jest about stringing them with barbed wire depicts the overpowering sense of imprisonment the men experience in the isolation of the camp. Kildigs is identified as a comedian. His sense of humor is a major part of his identity, which both gains him respect and allows him to survive his destitute situation.
As Shukhov and Kildigs cross the work site, they see the men from the 82nd trying to dig holes in the frozen ground. Some of the men stare at the ground, discouraged by their inability to break through the frozen earth, but they are stuck there, forbidden to move. Discouraged, the men go back to work, which is the only way to stay warm. Kildigs tells one of the men to light a fire over the ground to help it thaw, but the man tells him it’s not allowed, that they have no firewood. If the guards had any compassion, they wouldn't have the men pounding at the frozen earth in the first place.
The Zeks’ futile attempts to break the frozen ground work as a metaphor that depicts the futility of their existence. In a counterintuitive way, their work, which is their punishment, becomes their only means of survival, leaving them stuck with no choice but to continue. The comment about the guards at the end depicts the lack of compassion the guards have for the Zeks.
As they approach the place where the felt is hidden, Shukhov notes that he likes working with Kildigs. The only bad thing about him is that he doesn't smoke, so he never has any tobacco. They find the felt right where Kildigs had hidden it. They are not concerned with the guards seeing them with the felt, the guards only care about prisoners who are escaping, plus the guards would be looking around for whatever they could scrounge just like the prisoners. The only people they needed to worry about were Der and Shkuropatenko. They decide to wrap their arms around it and carry it vertically so it will remain hidden.
Even though Shukhov enjoys working with Kildigs, he notes that Kildigs does not smoke, and is unable to give him tobacco. This comment shows that while camaraderie does exist, Shukhov, like the other Zeks, is primarily concerned with his own needs. The guards only care about prisoners escaping because they will be punished for it—they too are only worried about themselves. Der is the only one the Zeks need to worry about because his sense of power leads him to enforce his authority the way other guards don’t.
They arrive back at the power station to find the mechanical lift is broken, the motor had burned out and no one had bothered to repair it. The power station had stood unfinished for two months, but with the 104th working on it, the building had come back to life. Tyurin sends Shukhov to fix the stovepipe so a fire could be kindled. The other men are sent to repair the mixing box. Lacking the supplies, they take the handrail from the ramp up to the second story.
The broken lift shows metaphorically how the Soviet project is failing. If the authorities and Zeks truly cared about the project, the lift would have been repaired, but they are only interested in what affects them personally. Tyurin gives Shukhov the most important job, warming the site, showing Shukhov’s valuable role in the gang.
The narrator ponders why the men in the camp should work so hard, considering they were not being paid for their work. The narrator then explains that the camp is arranged so that men egg each other on, for their rations depend on the amount of work completed. Also, the men are forced to work in order to warm themselves up in the cold.
The role of work is counterintuitive, and reflects the way the camp conflicts with the soviet ideal. Because the men are given food based on the amount of work they do a capitalist sense of competition exists. Likewise, work is essential to stay warm, which means work is intrinsically connected with survival. Similarly, some Zeks take pride in their work, leading to a sense of dignity.
Shukhov begins working on the stove. The correct tools are not available, but he has a hammer and an ax and makes due. He hides his trowel in the wall again, knowing that although he is among his own men, one of them might swap it for his own, and that included Kildigs. As he works his memories and worries fade as his mind focuses on the single task at hand—fix the pipe. On the other wall, another stove burns in order to dry the sand to make the mortar. Fetyukov and Buynovsky are bringing wheelbarrows of sand to dry on it. The narrator notes that jobs such as this one were given to men who had been in positions of authority before entering the camp.
Shukhov’s ability to fix the stove despite the lack of tools reflects his ability to survive in the camp. He takes pride in his resourcefulness, which allows him to maintain his dignity. Work also serves as a respite from the thoughts of his lost past and bleak future. He hides his trowel, because competition exists within the gang even in the presence of camaraderie. Fetyukov and Buynovsky working side by side shows that a Zek’s social standing outside of the camp means little inside.
Fetyukov and Buynovsky edge up to the stove to warm up. Tyurin drives them off and the narrator notes that you only have to show a beaten dog a whip for it to cower. Tyurin tells Pavlo to keep the men working while he goes to check on the percentages, which will determine their rations for the day.
Tyurin exerts his power as he sends away Fetyukov and Buynovsky, and his authority over the men is revealed by the narrator’s comment. At the same time, he sends the men back to work so the percentages will be good, showing that his intentions are not cruel.
The narrator mentions that more depends on the work report than the work itself. A good squad leader knows how to make the reports look good and the site ratings to go up. The squad leader needs to be in good with the inspectors, and grease their palms to get ahead. The workers, however, do not benefit from their work, the camp does. The camp gets extra money for higher ratings, but this money goes to the higher-ups, while the Zeks got an extra six ounces of bread, at best.
The disconnection between the work report and the actual work done represents the disconnection between the authorities and the Zeks. The authorities are not concerned with the laborers, but with making themselves look good. They guards are the ones that benefit in the end, not the Zeks. The squad leaders job is to make sure his men get what they can from their labor, even if it’s a simple six ounces of bread.
Gopchik, a young prisoner, approaches Shukhov with some new aluminum wire asks Shukhov to teach him to make a spoon with it. Shukhov is fond of Gopchik. His own son had died young and his daughters are all grown up. Gopchik had been arrested for bringing milk to a Russian rebels in the forest, and had been given an adult’s term for his crime. He was young, but had already learned to survive in the camp, eating his food packages alone at night without sharing.
Gopchik is like a younger version of Shukhov. Shukhov’s mention of his own son furthers this idea. Gopchik, like Shukhov, is resourceful, astute, and principled—qualities that Shukhov admires. Gopchik’s sentence for such a minor crime shows the steadfast cruelty of the Soviet Regime.
Shukhov sends Gopchik up to hang the stovepipe. Gopchik climbs the ladder nimbly and positions himself on the beams to hang the pipe. Shukhov puts a bend in the pipe, knowing that it would keep the stove from smoking when there was wind. He remembers that he is taking this extra measure because it would benefit himself and the gang.
Gopchik, like Shukhov, is a hard worker and shows potential as a Zek, which leads to Shukhov’s fondness of him. Shukhov uses his knowledge to fit the stovepipe correctly, and takes pride in it because it is for the gang not the authorities.
The men continue working until the trucks arrive with the blocks to build the wall. Alyoshka brings in a shovel full of coal. Some men tell him to dump it on the fire, others tell him to wait, and so he stands there confused about whom to obey. Fetyukov had found a cozy corner and had his boots up to the heat of the stove. Eventually, Buynovsky orders him to haul sand. Buynovsky is still in the mindset he had during his time aboard ships—if you were told to do something you did it.
Alyoshka’s religious beliefs make him willing to work obediently, but his meekness is not necessarily an asset as shown by his confusion. Fetyukov, who is known for his selfishness, does not think about the fact that he is working for the good of the gang, which leads to his laziness. Buynovsky, however, still possesses the sense of responsibility he gained while working aboard ships, which leads to his comments to Fetyukov and his own drive to work.
Shukhov, Pavlo and Kildigs set out to find a way to get the blocks to the second story landing. The stairs are icy, and lack a railing for support, so the men decide to place someone on the landing and heave the blocks to him. Shukhov looks up at the sky and gasps—the sun had almost risen to the point denoting dinner hour. He notes how time flies when working, but the years never do. Shukhov notes that the sun is at its highest point, which must mean it is noon. Buynovsky jokes that the sun is highest at one, as declared by the Soviet government.
The men work together to problem solve, and through their collaboration, a sense of camaraderie develops. Working distracts Shukhov from his miserable situation. Focusing on misery makes the time move slowly, but it moves faster once he focuses on the job at hand. Buynovsky’s joke about the Soviet government decree regarding the time reflects the ultimate power of the Soviet Government—a power great enough to influence nature.
Pavlo tells Shukhov, Kildigs, and Senka to take a break before dinner. The men warm their hands beside the stove, but not their feet, because the heat will cause leather boots to crack and valenki to become sodden or burn holes right through them, leaving you without another pair until springtime. Shukhov takes one of his boots off and the men joke that Shukhov’s term is nearly up, and his one bare foot is almost home. Shukhov enjoys hearing this, but he has his doubts about it. Most of the Zeks who finish their sentence are sentenced again “pending special instructions”, or else they are exiled and unable to go home anyways.
The shortage of boots and the competition among the Zeks for clothing causes the men’s concern about their boots cracking. When the men joke about Shukhov’s release being close, he enjoys a moment of joy, but he joy is short lived, as he knows that his sentence will likely be extended. Shukhov is powerless over the authorities’ ability to keep him incarcerated.
Shukhov tells Kildigs not to worry about his twenty-five year sentence. He says that his eight years served, however, are a fact. The narrator explains that, “When you're flat on your face there's no time to wonder how you got in and when you'll get out.” According to Shukhov’s dossier, he’d testified against himself for high treason, even though the nature of his crime could not be explained. He’d known that if he pleaded innocent he would be shot, so he plead guilty, knowing it was his only chance at survival.
Because the future is unknown, the length of time left in one’s sentence is not important. What matters is the time one has been inside, which is a fact. The oppression from the Soviet power keeps the men from dreaming about getting out. Fearing death, Shukhov was forced to testify against himself, showing the fear tactics the Soviet regime uses against Soviet citizens. Based on Shukhov’s experience, it can be assumed that many of the Zeks were subjected to similar injustice.
The narrator reveals Shukhov’s crime of treason. In 1942 Shukhov was in the Russian army on the Northwest Front, starving, and surrounded by the German army. After being captured, Shukhov escaped with a group of soldiers, and as if by a miracle reached the Russian front. Upon reaching the Russians, however, a machine gunner shot two of the men and another later died of his wounds. They said they were POW’s and had escaped, but because there were only two of them they were accused of lying and tried for treason.
Shukhov’s story shows the depth of injustice committed by the Soviet Regime. The fact that Shukhov was fighting in the Russian Army suggests that he was a loyal Soviet citizen, but upon being captured his service is not recognized, and to the extreme opposite, he is accused of being a traitor. The murder of his comrades by their own men shows metaphorically the Soviet power’s betrayal of their own people.