Senka, though he is deaf, catches wind that the men are talking about escape and reveals that he escaped from the Nazis three times before being arrested for smuggling arms. Little is known about Senka, besides his crime and that the Germans punished him by tying him up and whipping him.
Senka is a sort of mysterious hero in the gang. The other men only know a little about him, but what they do know of him are his heroics in escaping from the Nazis. His deafness and mysterious nature represents the way in which Zeks struggle to communicate with and understand one another.
Kildigs responds to Shukhov’s comment about his time served by claiming that Shukhov’s eight years had been easy, as they had not been served in “special” camps where there were no women and you had to wear numbers. Shukhov remembers hauling logs for three years at the last camp. The chief of the camp had made a rule that any squad that didn't meet their quota had to stay in the forest after dark. Shukhov says that life at the “special” camps is easier since you go home once your shift is over, plus prisoners received more bread.
Kildigs’ attempt to diminish the time Shukhov has served suggests a sense of resentment and competition. Shukhov’s experience, however, suggests that the other camp was even more oppressive, as the men forced to make quotas, unlike their present camp where work reports are exaggerated. Either way, no matter the camp where a Zek does his time, he is oppressed by the Soviet power.
Fetyukov chimes in, asking Shukhov if he thinks having your throat slit in your bunk is a quieter life. Pavlo speaks up, claiming that the men who were killed were not men, but “squealers”. The narrator reveals that two men had been killed in their bunks, and another had been killed after being mistaken for another prisoner. A fourth had run to the guards for protection.
When it comes to “squealers” the Zeks take the power into their own hands, turning to murder as punishment for the crime. Squealing is one of the worst sins in the camp, leading to a complete loss of one’s dignity and, as suggested by Pavlo’s remark, makes a Zek less than human.
Just then, the dinner whistle blows. They should have gotten to the canteen earlier since there are eleven squads and only room for two men in the canteen at a time. Pavlo tells Shukhov and Gopchik to follow him and tells Kildigs to bring the other men when he sends for them. As they walk out side, Shukhov notes that it has grown warm enough to lay bricks. He looks up at the sun, thinking about Buynovsky comment about the soviets decree that the sun is highest at one.
Pavlo, Shukhov, and Gopchik go to the mess hall to secure their spot in line, as the other Zeks working at the site will be competing for a good place in line. Ruminating on Buynovsky’s comment shows that there is some truth in his comment, which reminds Shukhov of the Soviet power under which he is imprisoned.
The mess hall is a shanty with a partition separating the canteen from a tiny eating room. Two men—a cook and a sanitation inspector—run the kitchen. Each morning the cook draws an issue of grits from the main kitchen. The cook doesn't like to carry the grits to the work site, so he hires a prisoner to carry it and pays him with extra rations. He also finds men to carry the firewood, water and other cooking supplies, and other men to guard the canteen and carry the bowls. All of these “helpers” are paid with extra food, all of which comes from the bowls of the other Zeks. The cook’s job was to pour the grits into the pot and add salt and fat. He keeps the good fat for himself and puts the rancid fat into the Zek’s food. The sanitation inspector’s job is to sit and watch the cook. Then the deputy-squad leader arrives and has a taste of the food to decide whether it’s “good enough” for the Zeks, receiving a double portion.
Because of the scarcity of food, competing for food is a Zek’s primary focus. The importance of food places the cooks in a position of power. The cooks, as the overseers of the rations, exploit their power to make their own lives easier, which comes at the expense of the other men’s rations. The cook is also able to secure the best food for himself and those in power, which contrasts the ideal of a collective society.
When the whistle blows again the squad leaders line up for their helpings. The narrator tells that no matter how hard a Zek works the land raising food, he is only afforded what the guards give him. The Zek’s are constantly getting robbed, and the biggest insult is that them men robbing them don’t even work for the food.
Pavlo and Shukhov walk into the canteen with Gopchik bringing up the rear. The room is packed, and the men of gang 82 are finished eating, but not moving. Shukhov and Pavlo elbow their way into the room. The cook yells for bowls, and Shukhov begins collecting them, not to get extra food, but to get his food quicker. Behind the partition, Shukhov sees men washing dishes for extra food. Pavlo sends Gopchik to fetch the rest of the men.
The 82nd are competition for the 104th,as they are occupying seats that the 104th need in order to eat. Shukhov is careful to note that he is collecting bowls not to get extra food, showing that he is too dignified to do extra labor for food he has already worked for, and he looks down upon the men working behind the partition because they are doing extra work.
Shukhov is glad to see that they are serving real oatmeal. Shukhov reflects on a time when he used to feed oats to horses, and it had never occurred to him that a time would come when he would yearn for a handful of them.
His reflection on the oats he used to feed his horses shows that his time in the camp has changed him.
The 104th arrives and gets into line. Shukhov’s job is to get into one of the tables, send away the remaining Zeks from the other squad, and clear room for the bowls. When this task is finished, he helps Pavlo move them to the table, being vigilant to keep count of them so no one swipes any.
The gang must work together to secure the table and the food, depicting a sense of camaraderie to overcome the competition.
The gang receives fourteen bowls, but the kitchen runs out additional bowls. The cook places two more full bowls on the counter, making sixteen, but as he turns to calls for more empty bowls to fill, Shukhov swipes them, and brings them to the table. When the cook turns back around, Pavlo tells him they have only received fourteen. The cook turns and notices they are gone, and yells to Shukhov. Shukhov stealthily passes the bowls to the two Estonians in the squad who hide them. Shukhov tells the cook to count the bowls, and when he does finds fourteen.
Although Shukhov will not do extra work for food he has already earned, he has no problem stealing food, as he feels he has worked hard enough to deserve it. The gang works as a team to secure the food by duping the cooks.
Shukhov begins eating, knowing that Pavlo will give one of the bowls to him, but not until he finished his first. He takes out his spoon, removes his hat, and begins eating. Shukhov grows nervous as he sees Fetyukov 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 it. Pavlo takes his time to eat, licks his spoon, and crosses himself, drawing out Shukhov’s wait. Then he touches two bowls, indicating they are for Shukhov.
Despite his hunger, Shukhov takes the time to remove his hat before he begins eating, showing his strict principles. Although he knows he has earned the extra bowls, Fetyukov is a source of concern as he is also competing for the food. Pavlo, who is also a principled man, eats slowly and crosses himself, showing that the camp has not destroyed his dignity or religious beliefs.
Buynovsky is sitting near Shukhov. Having finished his food, he is trying to warm up before going back to work. He, like the Zek’s from the prior gang, is taking up space that is no longer his, as he is supposed to move back out into the cold to make room for the next gang. The narrator notes that Buynovsky is a newcomer, and doesn't understand the life of a Zek yet. Moments like this one are important, as they are transforming him from a confident naval officer, into an inert Zek, and his inertness will be essential to his survival over his twenty-five year sentence.
Buynovsky does not understand the ways of the camp yet, which is why he does not understand that he is supposed to move when he is done eating. As the narrator suggests, in time he will learn to be inert, which will be essential to his survival. In the camp, the Zeks have no option but to sit still, and move inward to maintain a sense of identity and dignity.
Pavlo hands Buynovsky one of the extra bowls. The narrator notes that Buynovsky, a man who has sailed the world, looks at the bowl of oatmeal as if it is something miraculous. Fetyukov shoots an angry look at Shukhov and Buynovsky, and leaves. Tsezar’s bowl of oatmeal is on the table, waiting to be delivered to the office where he works. Shukhov eyes it, hoping Tsezar will give him his bowl. He notes that it’s unlikely since Tsezar hasn’t received a parcel for more than two weeks.
Pavlo’s decision to give Buynovsky the bowl shows the way in which the experienced men of the gang look out for newer members. Buynovsky’s reaction to the food depicts the way in which Buynovsky is losing his identity as a captain and assuming the identity of a Zek. Fetyukov does not receive the bowl because he is a known scrounger, which leads to the loss of respect form his fellow gang members. Although Shukhov will not outwardly show his yearning for food like Fetyukov, inside he longs for Tsezar’s extra rations. By hiding his longing, he protects his dignity.
Shukhov takes the bowl to the office where Tsezar works. When he walks in, he notes that it is as warm as a bathhouse. The light comes through the windows playfully, and the smoke from Tsezar’s pipe looks like incense in a church. The superintendent is bemoaning the waste caused by the Zeks at the work site: dry cement blowing away and materials being stolen to burn as firewood.
The warm atmosphere of the office contrasts Shukhov’s cold, harsh work conditions, and reflects Tsezar’s privilege. The comparison of Tsezar’s pipe smoke to church incense, suggests this privileged space is sacred. The superintendent’s complaints stem from the concern that he will be punished for the waste. He never recognizes that the waste is due to the harsh environmental elements of the camp and the Zeks struggle to survive.
Shukhov approaches Tsezar’s desk and finds him debating Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible with another prisoner. Tsezar claims Eisenstein is a genius, but the other man claims that the film is so artsy it is no longer art, that art’s true purpose is to nourish the soul. Tsezar asks what other interpretation Eisenstein could have gotten away with, to which the other man replies that Eisenstein should be called an “ass kisser” not a genius, for true geniuses don't make art to suite the taste of tyrants. Tsezar states that art isn’t about what, but how. The other man claims that it isn’t worthwhile unless it arouses a feeling within him. Tsezar then puts his hand out for his bowl, without even acknowledging Shukhov, so Shukhov quietly leaves.
Tsezar’s conversation continues the critique of art that ignores the people. The other prisoner thinks Eisenstein’s film as “too artsy”, claiming he is only concerned with its artfulness, and as a result, does not make him feel anything. Tsezar’s other comment speaks to the oppression of art by the Soviet government—especially art revealing the struggles of real Soviet people. When Tsezar ignores Shukhov to continue his conversation about art, the argument is enacted in a literal way. The conversation about art leads to Shukhov being ignored.
As he walks back toward the station, Shukhov finds a piece of a broken hacksaw blade. He picks it up and decides to keep it to make a knife out of it. When he reaches the power station, he retrieves his trowel and heads for the machine shop where gang 104 is warming up before starting work again.
Shukhov’s decision to keep the piece of metal revels his identity as a resourceful Zek. He sees possibility in the shard of metal, and knows if he can smuggle it back into camp it will be profitable.