One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Why does Solzhenitsyn call the protagonist by the name “Ivan Denisovich” in the title but by the name “Shukhov” almost everywhere else in the narrative?

One result of Solzhenitsyn’s calling Shukhov by two different names is an emphasis on the power and importance of names in human relationships. The difference between “Shukhov” and “Ivan Denisovich” is the difference between cold official talk and cordial familiarity. The family name “Shukhov” connotes bureaucracy and government information files. The first and middle names “Ivan Denisovich,” by contrast, evoke trusting and confidential conversations in which people care for each other and in which information is revealed without fear that it will be misused.

The use of these different types of names can show solidarity or imply mistrust. The camp inmates tend to address each other in the friendly “Ivan Denisovich” manner, with the Christian name first and the patronymic, or father’s name, second. This form of address creates a sense of equality. However, the prisoners do not trust Fetyukov, and therefore call him only by his family name. Tyurin, who outranks the other characters, is also known exclusively by his last name, emphasizing his distanced official status.


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