When Shukhov returns from the office, he finds the men of Gang 104 warming up around the stove. The men are in good spirits because Tyurin had been successful in fixing the work report so their numbers looked good, even though the gang hadn’t accomplished much that morning. A good work report means five days of good rations, although one day’s worth of the food would be taken by the guards.
As a good squad leader, Tyurin knows how to fix the work reports so they look good, which benefits his gang. The news of his success brings joy to his men, as they will be given good rations for their “work”. Just like the cooks who control the food, Tyurin plays a major role in the gang’s attainment of food, giving him a powerful role in the gang. But he is still unable to prevent the authorities from taking their cut.
As the men sit around the fire, the narrator says the gang is like one big family. Tyurin begins telling some of the men his story. He has taken his hat off to eat, and the narrator notes how many grey hairs he has. He tells that when he was twenty-two, serving in the Red army, he was excommunicated because he was the son of a Kulak, a wealthy peasant class in Russia that Stalin vowed to eliminate. The authorities had been looking for him for two years before they found he was hiding his identity.
As the narrator notes, during Tyurin’s story, the gang comes together gang like a family. Tyurin’s story of injustice connects him to his men. Although he is in a position of power, he is one of them and his “crime” of being a kulak shows he too has been subjected to the oppressive power of the Soviet regime. In a sense, Tyurin is freer in the camp than he was before his incarceration. Inside the camp he no longer needs to hide his identity the way he did in the army, and is able to cultivate his identity as a leader.
In November the Red Army kicked Tyurin out. Before they sent him away they took his winter clothes and gave him a summer uniform, and didn’t give him rations or a train pass. In 1938, at the deportation point, he met his former squadron commander, who tells him the men who excommunicated were shot and killed. Tyurin crossed himself and acknowledged that God must exist, that God’s patience “is long suffered, but [he] strikes hard.”
The way the Army sent him away without food or proper clothing shows cruelty of the Soviet regime. His comment about God shows that even in his despair, he has faith in God and believes those who do wrong be punished, even if it happens in God’s time.
In the middle of Tyurin’s story, Shukhov asks one of the Estonians for a cigarette until the next day, promising he will repay him. The Estonian turns to his brother, these two men share everything. They mutter something in their native tongue, and then give Shukhov enough for a single cigarette. As Shukhov lights the cigarette, he notices Fetyukov glaring at him from across the room. He reflects that he might have given him a drag, but he had already seen Fetyukov conniving during dinner, so he decides to give some to Senka instead.
The Estonians consult with one another about the cigarette because they share a sense of camaraderie based on their shared history and operate as a single unit. They give Shukhov the cigarette because they know he is honorable and will pay them back. Shukhov disrespects Fetyukov because he is a scrounger. Despite his constant hounding, Fetyukov receives little from his fellows, showing the way in which the loss of one’s dignity makes camp life challenging. Senka, on the other hand, receives the end of Shukhov’s cigarette because he does not beg, and maintains his dignity.
Tyurin continues his story, talking calmly, as if he were telling someone else’s story. After being kicked out of the army, he sold what rags he had and bought some bread “under the table” as the government had already started rationing. He was unable to buy a train ticked because the government required special identification, so he jumped a wall and hid in a public restroom. When he realized no one is after him, he left the restroom and saw a group of people fighting to fill their kettles from a public faucet. He noticed a girl standing there, unable to push herself through. He handed her the bread and offered to fill her kettle. As he filled it, the train started leaving, and the girl began crying. Tyurin ran from the faucet and hoisted the girl onto the train. He then pulled himself up, surprised that the conductor mistook him for a soldier, and didn't throw him off.
The way Tyurin tells his story as if it were someone else’s shows the way in which he is disconnected from his past. Tyurin buys bread under the table because the Government had begun rationing, showing the way in which Stalin’s regime had begun exerting their oppressive power over the Soviet people. Tyurin’s act of good will toward the girl, shows the morality of his character, and ultimately leads to his success hopping the train. This situation suggests that individuals who show good morals and strong principals are rewarded with good fortune.
Tyurin found himself in a room with six girls from the university in Leningrad. When they asked him what coach he was in, he told the truth, that he was heading toward death in a labor camp. The girls are struck by the severity of his situation, and hide him under their raincoats all the way until Novosibirsk. Tyurin notes he was able to help one of the girls later when she too was incarcerated: he got get a job at a tailoring shop.
Tyurin’s response to the girls shows the severity of his future under the authority of the Soviet regime. By hiding him, the girls reveal the attitude of the people toward Stalin’s rule. If they were loyal to Stalin, they would have turned him in. Tyurin is later able to repay one of the girls after she is incarcerated, showing his virtuous character and the camaraderie he feels with the girl after she helps him.
Pavlo asks Tyurin if they should begin mixing mortar, but Tyurin ignores him and continues his story. He says that after he got off the train, he went to his house and fetched his brother. He took his brother to Frunze and left his brother with a group of road workers. He never saw his brother again after that.
By ignoring Pavlo, Tyurin suggests that sharing his identity and story with his men is more important than slaving for the authorities, who are working to strip it away. The loss of his brother shows the way in which the Soviet regime affects everyday people and families.
When Tyurin finishes his story, he puts the men to work. The work signal has not been sounded yet, but the narrator notes that Tyurin is a good squad leader and his men will get right to work for him. A guard, on the other hand, could tell them to work and they wouldn't budge. The squad leader is the one that feeds them, and will never make them work for nothing.
Because the men respect Tyurin, they are willing to work, knowing that his orders are given in the men’s best interest. In this way, Tyurin is more powerful than the guards, as the Zeks resist their orders while following Tyurin’s orders without complaint.
Shukhov jumps up to work, but Kildigs looks at him funny. Kildigs doesn't have to worry about working because he receives parcels that help him survive. Eventually Kildigs gets up because you can’t keep the gang waiting for you. Kildigs offers to go with Shukhov, and Shukhov notes that was the other reason he got up first—he wanted to get the plumb before Kildigs did. Then Pavlo offers to help. Pavlo doesn't have to help, but he is willing to work for Tyurin.
Kildigs looks at Shukhov funny because they do not share the same principals. Kildigs survives by his parcels, while Shukhov survives by maintaining his identity, principals, and dignity. Shukhov’s desire to get to the plumb before Kildigs reveals the competition among the gang members. Pavlo’s willingness to work shows his respect for Tyurin and the other men, and reveals the way in which work levels the hierarchy within the group.
The men decide to work in pairs so the mortar doesn’t freeze. Before he begins work, Shukhov notices the expanse of the camp from the second story where he is set to work, but when he begins working his thoughts center only on his work. The spot where he begins working was full of mistakes made by the last mason working on the wall, but as Shukhov begins working, he treats the wall as if it were his own. He plots how to make the men work more effectively, and how he can help the others accomplish their tasks.
The expanse of the camp represents the immensity of Shukov’s oppressive situation, but as he moves into his work, his thoughts are not consumed by it. Through work, Shukhov is able to cultivate his identity and dignity, which help him survive. He is also able to take ownership over his work, which is immensely important for a man who owns nothing.
Shukhov sets the plumb string, and begins laying bricks. The gang works with great efficiency so the mortar doesn't freeze, some men carrying bricks, others mixing mortar, and the rest laying bricks. Shukhov makes no mistakes, working hastily, but with incredible finesse. Every so often, Tyurin yells for more mortar, and intermittently, Shukhov yells the same thing, noting that when you are working as a group each man is the squad leader to the next.
As the men work a true sense of camaraderie emerges. The men view this collective effort as labor they are doing for the good of the gang, not the good of the state. Shukhov shines while he works, and his skill puts him on an even level with Tyurin, as shown by his command while working.
Buynovsky and Fetyukov are assigned to carry mortar. Buynovsky goes slowly at first because the ramps are steep and icy, but grows more efficient with each trip. Fetyukov, however, gets lazier with each climb up the ramp. Buynovsky grows frustrated with Fetyukov, and refuses to work with him any longer. Tyurin sends Fetyukov to move blocks and tells Alyoshka to help Buynovsky with the mortar. Buynovsky agrees without hesitation. The narrator notes that Alyoshka is a quiet man, and will follow anyone’s orders.
The discrepancy in Buynovsky and Fetyukov’s reaction to the work speaks to their individual characters. Buynovsky adjusts to the work, showing his potential as a Zek, which gains him the respect of the gang. Fetyukov’s laziness, in contrast, earns him a more difficult job assignment. Alyoshka’s willingness to follow Tyurin’s orders stems from his religious beliefs that he is in the camp to grow spiritually. His obedience, however, is not always an asset as he lacks the ability to stand up for himself.
A mechanic arrives to fix the mechanical lift to haul the blocks and mortar. Along with the mechanic, the building-foreman, Der, arrives and climbs the ramp. Kildigs jokes with Shukhov to let him know if Der falls off the icy ramp so he can watch. Der stands behind Shukhov and Kildigs watching them work. Shukhov hates men like Der. Once Der had tried to show Shukhov how to lay bricks, which had given Shukhov a good belly laugh. Shukhov thinks “a man should build a house with his own hands before he calls himself an engineer”. In the village where Shukhov lived prior to his incarceration there were no brick buildings, but the camp needed masons, so he learned the trade.
Kildig’s joke about Der shows the lack of respect and hatred the men have for Der. Shukhov hates Der because he critiques his work without possessing any skill himself. Individuals gain Shukhov’s respect by gaining and using their skills to work hard. In this way, Shukhov is a model Zek. When the camp needed masons, he learned the skill, even though he’d never worked as a mason before entering the camp. Der is the opposite of Shukhov, as his identity as an authority figure is not backed by any experience.
Der begins to yell at Tyurin for using the roofing felt for covering the windows. He threatens Tyurin with a third term for the offense. As Shukhov listens, he worries about losing Tyurin because he is like a father to the gang. Tyurin steps up to Der, and Pavlo backs him up, shovel in hand. Then Senka steps up beside Pavlo, placing his hands on his hips. Tyurin tells Der his time for giving terms has passed, and he will be killed if he says anything. Der becomes frightened and backs down. He asks Tyurin what he should tell his superior about the roofing felt. Tyurin tells him to tell his superior they found it that way. Before he leaves, Der picks on Shukhov, asking why he is using so little mortar. Shukhov tries to explain that in cold weather the bricks require extra mortar, but Der tells him not to question a foremen’s orders.
Lacking a true understanding of the work, Der berates Tyurin for using the felt, when the job could not be completed without warming the space. The way the gang comes together to protect Tyurin shows the camaraderie among the men. In this moment the power shifts, and the Zeks take the authority over the situation. Der’s response to the men shows that he too is afraid of those who hold power over him. When Der picks on Shukhov before leaving, it shows the way that those who are oppressed turn to those who are weaker than them to regain a sense of power.
The men continue to pick up their pace as they work, even though the mechanic deemed the machine beyond repair. As the wall gets higher with each row of bricks the work becomes easier since they don't need to bend down to work. As they begin laying the fifth row of bricks, Gopchik reports that the men of Gang 82 are handing in their tools. Tyurin tells him to mind his business and continue working. Shukhov notices the sun is setting, but since he has begun the fifth row, he thinks it best to finish it.
The fact that the work becomes easier as the men do it symbolically shows the importance of work for the Zeks. It not only grows physically, but also becomes a place where the men gain a sense of power and dignity. Gopchik’s concern shows the competition among the gangs to be the first back to the camp after work, but Tyurin understands that the gang’s true competition is the authorities that determine their rations. Shukhov’a desire to continue working shows his principals—he is devoted to doing a good job because he feels ownership over his work.
Shukhov commands the men to place the bricks on the wall to keep the pace up. Buynovsky would have agreed, but he lacked the strength. Alyoshka, on the other hand, happily agrees and continues working. Shukhov notes that Alyoshka and the other Baptists had something in their way of life, that if a man asks for help, he should be helped. Shukhov notes that if everyone in the world were like that, he’d act accordingly.
As an inexperienced Zek, Buynovsky does not have the endurance to continue, although he would if he could. Shukhov’s mention of the Baptists shows that he sees some value in their way of life. In the constant competition of the camp, however, he does not see giving freely of himself as logical or even possible.