Belief and faith are another means through which characters survive the horrors of camp life, find meaning, and maintain a sense of identity. The Soviet regime promoted atheism, as organized religion was viewed as a threat to the soviet project. Belief and faith are elements of a Zek’s life that are systematically stripped from them during their time in the camp. Early in the novel, Shukhov notices a new prisoner cross himself, but quickly notes that the habit will fade over time, showing the way that belief and faith diminish under the oppressive force of the camp. Some characters, however, retain a sense of belief and faith, including Tyurin and Alyoshka. And the characters that hold onto this aspect of their identity do much better in the harsh conditions of the camp. Holding to one’s faith becomes a discrete way to resist the pressure of Soviet power, which seeks to strip the prisoners’ identities.
Alyoshka symbolizes the benefits and disadvantage of maintaining belief and faith in the camp. Alyoshka, a devout Baptist, reads from a hand written portion of the New Testament and prays before work. Shukhov notices him smiling when they arrive at the work site, which strikes him as strange considering the labor set out before them. Alyoshka’s perception of his fate allows him to find happiness in the camp. He views his imprisonment as a cross he is bearing for God, and understands the camp as a good thing for his spirit, as the outside world would distract him with material wants, and distract him from the cultivation of his spirit. Although Alyoshka plays a positive role in gang 104 through his kindness and willingness to take orders, having this attitude in the camp can be dangerous. The meek prisoners at the camp receive harsh treatment from the guards and other prisoners. This fact, however, does not bother Alyoshka because he is more concerned with the development of the spirit, which is enhanced by the abuse he receives, and his views allow him to accept his situation.
Belief in God allows Alyoshka to attain a sense of spiritual freedom in the camp. While the other characters are consumed by their need for material things, including food, clothing, warmth, Alyoshka is interested in cultivating his spirit. From this angle, the camp is the ideal place for him to be. This shift of perspective has a liberating effect, and his message at the end of the novel has such an effect on Shukhov. After hearing Alyoshka’s spiritual message, Shukhov gives him a biscuit without expecting anything in return. Shukhov still thinks that Alyoshka’s way of life is impractical, and gives him the biscuit out of pity because he believes Alyoshka does not know how to take care of himself. Yet Shukov still gives the biscuit in a spirit of pure generosity, asking for nothing in return, suggesting that Shukhov has grown spiritually through Alyoshka’s message, and that Shukov’s view of Alyoshka’s way of life as being impractical may not be correct. After all, in the end, Alyoshka has his needs met without a self-seeking motive behind his kindness, suggesting that belief and faith may be a viable means to exist in the camp.
Belief and Faith ThemeTracker
Belief and Faith Quotes in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
From the outside, everyone looked the same—their numbered black coats were identical—but within the squad there were great distinctions. Everyone had his grade.
And now Shukhov complained about nothing: neither about the length of his stretch, nor about the length of the day, nor about their swiping another Sunday. This was all he thought about now: "We’ll survive. We’ll stick it out, God willing until it’s over.”
“Well,” [Shukhov] said conclusively, “however much you pray it doesn't shorten your stretch. You’ll sit it out from beginning to end anyhow.”
“Oh, you mustn’t pray for that either,” said Alyoshka, horrified. “Why do you want freedom? In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds. You should rejoice that you’re in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul.”
Shukhov went to sleep fully content. He’d had many strokes of luck that day: They hadn’t put him in the cells; they hadn't sent his squad to the settlement; he’d swiped a bowl of kasha at dinner…He’d built a wall and enjoyed doing it…
A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy one.
There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like this in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail.
Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days.
Three extra days were for leap years.