One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Summary and Analysis of Part Four

Dinner to the Signal to End Work pages 81-102:

Captain Buinovsky sits near Shukhov in the canteen, finished with his bowl but without the energy to get up, even though he has just yelled at other men for hogging the space when they've finished eating. Buinovsky must learn to be "an inert, though wary, zek" if he is to survive his twenty-five year sentence. Pavlo gives Buinovsky the extra bowl of oatmeal, which angers Fetiukov. Shukhov finishes his own second bowl, scraping it with his crust of bread, before leaving to take Tsezar his bowl.

The office, where Tsezar works, is a warm, stove-heated building near the sentry house. In one room, the superintendent is in a conference, yelling about prisoners chopping up lumber and prefabricated panels for firewood. Shukhov looks at Shkuropatenko, an orderly, and is glad he did not catch him and Kilgas taking the roofing felt. At his desk, Tsezar is arguing with prisoner X 123, an old man, about the filmmaker Eisenstein. Tsezar thinks that Eisenstein is a genius, that true "art isn't a matter of what but how," but X 123 thinks that Eisenstein is an "ass kisser" for justifying personal tyranny and mocking three generations of Russian intelligentsia in his films. Shukhov gives Tsezar his bowl and leaves. On his way back to the power station, he finds a bit of a steel hacksaw blade, which he pockets, hoping to find a future use for it. Back at the power station, the men are crowded around the stoves. Shukhov learns that Tiurin was successful in fixing the work report. With a good work report they will get five - though really four, because one day the entire camp will be on minimum rations - days of good rations.

Tiurin is telling a story about how he was brought before a battalion commander and regimental commander when he was twenty-two. They found out his father was a kulak and discharged him from the army, sending him home dressed in a summer uniform with no train pass. In '38, Tiurin met his former squadron commander at a deportation point and learned both of the men had been shot in '37, which made him believe there was a God. Shukhov is dying to smoke and reckoning he can get tobacco from the Lett, tells the Estonians he'll pay them back if they give him just enough tobacco for one cigarette. As he's enjoying his cigarette, Shukhov sees Fetiukov looking at him but decides to share it with Senka.

Tiurin continues, telling how he hopped a wall into the train station and was helping a girl fill up her kettle when the train left. They both hopped on the moving train together, and he found himself in a coach with six girls, Leningrad students. They hid him on the top berth when he explained his situation, and in '35 helped one of them in the camps by getting her a job in a tailoring shop when she'd been working on a hard labor team. He went home and left with his younger brother that same night. They went to Frunze, where he got a group of road workers to promise to teach his brother - who he hasn't seen since - how to live. Though the whistle hasn't blown yet, Tiurin tells the men to get to work, mixing mortar. Shukhov goes to chip the ice off the existing wall, and Kilgas, who doesn't depend so much on rations because of the food packages he receives, is slower to go. Shukhov tells Pavlo he'll be the fourth man for block laying, and Pavlo says in that case he will make the mortar himself. He and Kilgas go up to the second story and Senka follows them there.

There are already three rows built, and the next rows, from knee to chest will be the easiest to build. Shukhov begins cracking the ice on the top of the wall with his axe. Tiurin announces that they'll work in pairs - Shukhov and Senka, he and Kilgas - rather than alone so that the mortar doesn't freeze. As Shukhov shows Senka where to chop the ice, he is already envisioning how many rows it will take and where he needs to put the blocks to even up the incompetently laid wall. He brushes off the ice with a wire brush and stretches a string at the height of three blocks, then begins to lay the blocks using mortar brought up in barrows from below. He has to be careful to slap on just enough mortar and to lay the blocks exactly right because the mortar freezes quickly. There is a rhythm to the work, and Shukhov continues as new barrows of mortar are brought up. The work warms them up, in a first wave and then again after an hour in a second wave. Even the cold wind doesn't distract them.

Buinovsky and Fetiukov carry the mortar up at first. Buinovsky gets faster and faster, but Fetiukov gets lazier, even sloppy mortar out of his barrow so that it will be lighter to push, until finally Buinovsky demands Tiurin give him someone else to work with. Tiurin gives him Alyosha, who is quiet and follows orders well, and makes Fetiukov carry up blocks. Downstairs, a mechanic and a civilian superintendent arrive to look at the broken lift. Shukhov is on his third row when Der, a building-foreman, followed by Pavlo, arrives to watch them work. There were no brick, only wood, buildings in Shukhov's town, but he learned to be a mason in the camps. Der tells Tiurin he'll get a third term for stealing the roofing felt, but Tiurin throws down his trowel and takes a menacing step towards Der. Senka also approaches and Pavlo lifts his spade. Tiurin tells Der if he says anything it will be his last day on earth. Der backs down, taking shelter behind Kilgas.

Tiurin tells Der to tell the superintendent that the roofing felt was already on the windows. Angry, Der lashes out at Shukhov, saying he's using too much mortar, but Shukhov explains that if he uses more in this weather, it will be like a sieve in the spring. As Der goes down the ramp, Tiurin demands he get the lift repaired but Der can only say the men will be paid for carrying the blocks. Der goes back to the office, and the men from downstairs say that the mechanic and superintendent say the motor in the lift is past repair. Shukhov has seen lots of machinery broken down or smashed by zeks, like a log conveyer that broke because some men shoved a log under the chain to give themselves a moment's rest. Tiurin demands more mortar from downstairs, and the masons begin a fifth row of blocks. Gopchik reports that the 82nd have gone to hand in their tools, and the sun is about to set, but Tiurin tells them to continue. Shukhov is getting cold now and his back hurts when he bends for the mortar, but he wants to finish the fifth row before they leave for the day. Alyosha helps by lifting up the blocks, and just then the rail clangs, signaling the end of the work day.


In this section of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, we see the value placed upon and struggle over work. For the camp officials and Soviet government, work is a commodity. Its value is something to be haggled over by squad leaders and bookkeepers. In many ways, this understanding of work as a measurable commodity is used as a means of oppression against the prisoners. Work is measured and distributed, as are necessities like food and rest time. But because of this, prisoners, such as squad leader Tiurin, use this commodication of work for their own benefits - using other commodities like food and tobacco to bribe officials and have the value placed on a certain task changed or increased. By accepting and trading upon the official understanding of work, the prisoners can find a means of a degree of resistance.

For Shukhov, however, work's primary value is as an act. Work and the practice of the trade provides Shukhov with a means of self-respect. The task to which one is assigned in the camp not only defines one's place in the hierarchy - as with office workers and cooks, who are in positions to be bribed by lower ranking prisoners - but the possibility of survival. One example of this is the woman whom Tiurin helped be transferred from a hard labor squad to a tailoring shop, trading upon the commodification of work and in doing so saving the woman's life. Shukhov, likewise, has found a trade needed in the prison camps which he can perform successfully. His mental exertions in planning and laying the blocks in the wall demonstrate his skill at masonry and the pride he takes in the task. Unlike the previous layer of the wall, who did a poor job, Shukhov has ironically found a new trade and a new source of pride in the prison camps in learning and excelling at masonry. In an environment in which he has no possessions of his own, a brick wall is a physical object he can look at with pride and in which he can see his self-worth reflected.

The metaphor of squad as family is made explicit here, when Shukhov returns from giving Tsezar his bowl in the office to see the squad gathered around the stoves. Tiurin is a father figure, respected by the men whom he calls "boys." The white hairs Shukhov notices in the light of the fire and the story he tells to offer the example of mutual help between prisoners support this image of Tiurin as father figure. This principle of mutual support, however, is contrasted with Der's confrontation of Tiurin and his threat to turn him in for the criminal act of covering the windows of roofing felt. That one prisoner would purposely seek the sentence of an additional prison term for another prisoner demonstrates the demoralizing and destructive effect the prison camp system has upon the human spirit. In this instance, in which Tiurin's men stand with him against Der, the principle of mutual support among prisoners prevails over Der's self-interest.

The discussion of the filmmaker Eisenstein provides an interesting commentary on the circumstances surrounding Solzhenitsyn's publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Prisoner X 123 provides a mouthpiece for Solzhenitsyn to condemn purely propagandistic art and the denounce those artists who silenced their own political views to promote a repulsive dominant ideology simply for the sake of publication. Tsezar, on the other hand, takes a more pragmatic view, saying that art is in the how rather than the what and that Eisenstein chose the only subject matter available to him. In neither case, interestingly enough, does either man suggest that it is possible to truly embrace and promote the government's agenda through art. It is assumed that the artist's true ideology differs from the one he is allowed to express.

Solzhenitsyn, however, was only able to publish his novel because of the changing political climate in the Soviet Union in the early '60s and Premier Khrushchev's desire to find art that promoted his own political agenda of denouncing Stalin. On the surface, then, it seems that Solzhenitsyn is eerily similar to Eisenstein, a man his own character condemns, in that he publishes his art only because it accords with government sentiments. As Solzhenitsyn's later books and the official Soviet reaction to them would show, however, is that Solzhenitsyn simply used the coincidence of his opinion about the Soviet prison camps with Khrushchev's destalinization policy to create for himself a public mouthpiece through which he could continue to express his true opinion even when that opinion, in cases other than the publication of One Day, would go on to differ from that of the government.

In this section of the novel, we see stirrings of subjects that would later be more fully expressed in Solzhenitsyn's works. Tiurin's story, about his discharge from the army and attempts at eluding capture, is one of many individual narrative Solzhenitsyn subsumes in what is ostensibly the story of just one man. In the course of the novel, he provides a brief history of a cross section of men in Shukhov's squad - Tiurin, Gopchik, Senka, the Estonians, Fetiukov, Buinovsky, etc. These personal narratives, most likely based upon the real life stories of the men Solzhenitsyn knew in prison camp, remind the reader of the breadth of the prison camp system. Indeed, nearly every Russian had a family member who was sent to the camps during Stalin's regime. In his later multi-volume work The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn would seek to represent and record the abuses of the prison camp system in more detail. In this book, he begins the process of giving voice to the real men who were silenced through their imprisonment under Stalin.