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 recommends Shukhov 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.
Bread Quotes in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
The One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bread. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the New American Library edition of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich published in 2008.).
Bread Symbol Timeline in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
The timeline below shows where the symbol Bread appears in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section1 (Shukhov wakes up to Kolya taking Shukhov’s temperature)
...foreman, Pavlo, and the foreman, Tyurin, getting out of bed. Pavlo goes off to the bread storage room, and Tyurin goes to the Production Planning Department. Shukhov realizes that the fate... (full context)
...hears another guard grumbling about how the gang should have received four twenty-five-ounce loaves of bread, but he was only given three. Meanwhile, Shukhov hears Alyosha murmuring his prayers. (full context)
Section 2 (Kolya takes Shukhov’s Temperature to Volkovoy’s search)
Section 4 (The story of Shukhov leaving home to arrival at the work site)
...he is most likely thinking about the gang’s percentages, which will determine the amount of bread the group will be allotted. Tyurin’s face is pockmarked, and he walks into the wind... (full context)
Section 5 (The arrival at the work site to the beginning of work)
...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.... (full context)
Section 6 (The beginning of work to news of the murdered stool pigeons)
Section 7 (The news of the murdered stoop pigeons to Tyurin’s story)
Section 8 (Tyurin’s story to the end of the work day)
Section 10 (Arrival at the camp to Tsezar’s arrival at the parcel room)
Section 11 (Tsezar’s arrival at the parcel room to the purchase of the tobacco)
Section 12 (The purchase of the tobacco to Shukhov’s going to bed)