One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch (Signet Classics)
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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Summary and Analysis

by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Part Seven

Return to the Barracks to Sleep pages 144-160:

Now, Shukhov has to conceal the bit of hacksaw blade. After whetting it down with a pebble in the mornings and evenings for four days, he will have a sharp little knife. Now, he hides it in a partition between the bunks before the captain returns and can see from his bunk below what he's doing. Fetiukov walks in crying, having been beaten up over the bowls, and crawls into his bunk. Shukhov feels sorry for him, knowing he won't see the end of his stretch. The captain returns with a pot of real tea he must have made with a pinch of Tsezar's tea and hot water from the faucet. From below, Tsezar asks to borrow Shukhov's pen-knife, which he made himself and hides inside a partition. Shukhov retrieves it and lends it to him to cut his sausage, knowing that means Tsezar is in his debt again. Shukhov hands over the amount of the tobacco he borrowed to the Estonians who roll it up and begin to smoke. Shukhov can hear Captain Buinovsky and Tsezar sharing food and drinking tea on the bunk below.

"Snubnose," a young guard, enters. He asks Tiurin if his people have signed forms about the extra garments they were wearing, and Tiurin stalls, saying not all his people are educated. He asks specifically about S 311, but Tiurin says he doesn't know all the numbers, in hopes of sparing Buinovsky that night in the cells. When Snubnose mentions Buinovsky by name, however, the captain pipes up. He's being taken to the cells for ten days. The 104th built those cells - cement floor, brick walls, barely any heat, boards to sleep on, nine ounces of bread a day and hot stew only on every third day. After ten days in the cells a man's health is ruined, and he spends the rest of his sentence with TB and in hospitals. After fifteen days in the cells, most men are buried. The captain goes off, without his coat and with a few cigarettes from Tsezar.

Just then, the barracks commander calls everyone out for evening count. Shukhov holds his cigarette in his hand as he goes. He feels bad for Tsezar, who rather than bringing his package straight to storage didn't know better than to gloat. Now the first person back from the count will steal it. Shukhov advises him to claim to be sick, so as to be the last one to leave, and says he will be the first one back. He lights his cigarette and goes outside.

Smoking his cigarette, Shukhov gets into the second line of five. The other prisoners take a long time to come out of the barracks. The prisoners have no watches or clocks, but Shukhov has heard that evening count starts at 9:00 but with a recount or two, it never gets over until 10:00. They are up again at 5:00 the next morning. The men in the back don't get into fives quickly and the barracks commander starts hitting the meek ones. As soon as they're recounted, the men rush from their group of five back inside. Now that there is a drying shed, unlike last year, subsequent recounts take place inside.

Shukhov is one of the first back. He puts his boots on the stove to dry and sits on Tsezar's bunk watching his things. Tsezar comes rushing back and thanks him. Shukhov, with more bread to eat and another cigarette to smoke, feels he has had a good day and prepares to make his bed. He sleeps on the mattress, under a grubby blanket and his coat with his feet in the sleeve of his jacket. Across from him, Alyosha is reading his Bible and suggests Shukhov pray. Shukhov compares prayers to the appeals they hand in to a box outside the staff quarters, which are either ignored or returned rejected. Though Alyosha says faith can move mountains, Shukhov scoffs at him. Alyosha says they should pray only for their daily bread and things of the spirit, and despite his protestations, Shukhov tells him about their priest in Polomnya, who was the richest man in town, paying alimony to three different women and bribing the bishop.

Alyosha tells Shukhov that the Orthodox Church has departed from Scripture. Shukhov says he believes in God but not heaven or hell and that prayer doesn't shorten your stretch. Alyosha says it's wrong to pray for freedom, that in prison you have time to think about your soul. Shukhov doesn't know if he wants freedom now or not, since he knows that men like him are exiled after their stretch and for him, freedom is home. He sees that Alyosha is truly happy but can't understand, even if Jesus wants Alyosha to sit in prison, why he is there - because they weren't ready for the war in forty-one?

Just then, the guards call them down for a second count. Tsezar gives him two biscuits, two lumps of sugar, and a slice of sausage, and he hides the bundle for him under his mattress because it would be harder to take from an upper bunk. Barefoot, Shukhov goes with the others to the opposite side of the barracks, where they're counted one by one as they pass back to their side. Shukhov manages to be eighteenth and rushes back to climb into his bed. He gives Alyosha one of his biscuits for nothing. He eats and enjoys the slice of sausage and leaves the rest for morning.

Shukhov is content because of his many strokes of luck that day. It has been "almost a happy day." He has "three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretchŠ The extra three days were for leap years."

Analysis:

Solzhenitsyn derives an incredible amount of emotional power from his use of understatement in this final part of his book. The final passage specifically uses bare facts to communicate Shukhov's near hopeless acceptance of his punishment. The reader is surprised to find that this day, with all its hardships, that s/he has just heard described in detail, has been "almost a happy day." Whereas a lesser writer would have described the worst possible day in the prison camps, Solzhenitsyn's choice of describing a better than average day allows him more emotional weight in convincing the reader just how bad things really were. The occurrences that Shukhov thinks of as strokes of luck - getting an extra bowl of oatmeal, for instance - are small events that are needed to ensure his survival. In simply listing the number of days very much like that day in Shukhov's sentence, the author very simply and very effectively communicates the hopelessness of such a prison sentence.

Solzhenitsyn also effectively uses understatement in describing Shukhov's ambivalent feelings about freedom. Shukhov has long ago ceased counting the number of days left in his sentence; this abandonment of hope is in fact necessary to his survival, for he knows of the possibility of being disappointed by facing exile after his sentence. In only two sentences, Solzhenitsyn communicates the true pain inflicted upon Shukhov by this harsh system: "Freedom meant one thing to him‹home. But they wouldn't let him go home." For all of his thoughts about freedom, in the evening or over meals, Shukhov longs for the one thing the prison has truly deprived him of, his home.

Unlike Alyosha, Shukhov has no system for making sense of his plight. He has done no wrong and thinks of himself and others as simply having been punished for being POWs or because the country wasn't ready for war. His religious background, coming from a town with a corrupt priest, does not provide him consolation the way Alyosha's does. However, neither Shukhov nor the narrator mocks Alyosha but rather recognizes the real consolation and acceptance he finds in the belief that he is in prison because Jesus wants him there. Though Shukhov believes in God and follows a moral code, he has no system that can offer him a reason for his unjust imprisonment. Nonetheless, he does not fail to be a good, generous, even Christian person, as when he gives Alyosha a biscuit expecting nothing in return.

Throughout the book, Shukhov knows better than to hope for too much - whether in envisioning the end of his stretch or asking Tsezar for some of his parcel. Those who seek to enjoy themselves too much - like Tsezar and Buinovsky, hurriedly enjoying the parcel - risk quick disappointment, while those like Shukhov, who wait, are rewarded. However, we must note that Shukhov is rewarded only in proportion to what he hopes for. Knowing better than to hope, he will not be disappointed. Although this is a safe mechanism for coping with prison life, it is also an effect of the prison camp system upon him - destroying his capacity for hope and thoughts of the future.

Especially towards the end of the book, in the original 1963 authorized translation of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn's use of narrative voice blurs the lines between fiction and reality. Though the book is told primarily through Shukhov's point of view, it is not told in the first person. Doing so allows the author to reflect on matters greater than those which concern a peasant like Shukhov. They also allow him to offer glimpses into other characters lives and their destinies. When we hear that clever Gopchik will do fine for himself in a few years when he grows up, even become a bread distributor, or that Fetiukov has the wrong attitude and will not survive his stretch, it is unclear if we are hearing Shukhov's judgments about his fellow prisoners or the observations of another man, Solzhenitsyn, who spent time living in and observing other men in Stalin's camps.

Towards the end of the book, this narrative voice ceases to speak completely in the third person and suddenly, words like "we" and "us" begin to appear. Sometimes, these appear to be Shukhov's thoughts, as when he remembers other prisoners swiping possessions out of lockers at Ust-Izhma, but sometimes, it seems that the pronouns include the narrator himself in the story. This collective recollection does more than remind the reader that Solzhenitsyn, like his protagonist, lived through a camp sentence under Stalin. It also reminds the reader of the enormity of the camp experience, of the sheer number of men and women from practically every Soviet household who experienced the camps like Shukhov did. This reminder to the reader that this is a shared, collective experience is appropriate for a novel that reawakens and speaks out against an ugly period of history that had until that time been silenced. Solzhenitsyn's novel is a Russian novel not only in the styles it follows but in that it seeks to speak for the Russian and other Soviet people, for millions of people who, like Shukhov, were silenced by the camps.

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