A Zek’s life revolves around the attainment of bread
. In a physical sense, bread is the main source of sustenance for the prisoners, and their skimpy bread rations allow them to survive on a daily basis. But survival in the camp goes deeper than the attainment of physical bread. The maintenance of ones identity, principals and dignity is another essential element of a Zek’s survival. In this way, the obsession with bread is destructive, as it causes prisoners to sacrifice their dignity and principals in the process of attaining bread. In a metaphorical sense, however, bread symbolizes spiritual sustenance that comes through preserving one’s dignity. Alyoshka
ask God only for his “daily bread”, an allusion to the Lord’s Prayer, in which bread represents spiritual sustenance. In moving away from the obsession with bread in a physical sense, a Zek is able to find liberation from the physical circumstances in which he lives. This idea plays out at the end of the novel when Shukhov offers Alyoshka a biscuit without expecting anything in return. Shukhov’s sense of joy in the final moments of the novel are connected to his movement away from physical bread toward the idea of bread as a symbol of spiritual nourishment, suggesting that spiritual bread may be the truest form of sustenance available to a prisoner.