One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

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

Roll Call to Work Assignments pages 38-58:

The squad follows Tiurin through the bitter cold to their old place in the column. Shukhov realizes that Tiurin must have bribed someone with salt pork in order to keep the squad from having to work at the "Socialist Way of Life" settlement. The guard notes that Tiurin has one man absent on sick leave that day, and the members of the squad realize that it is Panteleyev who has stayed behind - not because he is actually sick but because he has been secretly called by the security boys to squeal on someone. Shukhov remembers that he needs to have his number touched up - if it is too light, he can be thrown in the guardhouse - and he makes his way to an old man, one of three artists who paint pictures for the authorities and touch up numbers at roll call. When the old man is done, Shukhov walks over to Tsezar, a member of his squad who is smoking a cigarette and stands next to him, staring past him. Fetiukov is greedy and stares right at Tsezar's mouth and finally demands a puff. Because of that Tsezar gives the butt to Shukhov to smoke.

As he is smoking, Shukhov hears someone shout that the guards are stripping them all the way to their undershirts to search them. Lieutenant Volkovi, the security chief, who scares both prisoners and guards, is supervising the search. When he came to the camp in '49, he used to carry a thick leather whip with him, which he used to lash those who stood in a group, rather than a line, at evening count. The guards are usually lenient at morning roll call because there isn't much to take out of the camp. The authorities used to be afraid of the prisoners stealing their bread ration and built a box in which each squad's bread was carried in, until three prisoners escaped and took a case of bread with them. Today, they are searching the prisoners to make sure they are not wearing civvies under their outfits, since each man is only allowed to wear the shirt and undershirt assigned to him. When it comes time for the 104th to be frisked, the guards ease up a bit, because a gap has developed in the ranks. Shukhov does not worry because he is in regulation dress.

Tsezar is found to be wearing a flannel vest, however, and Buinovsky is wearing a vest or cummerbund. Buinovsky, a former Navy commander who has been in the camp less than three months, protests, saying that the guards are violating Article Nine of the Criminal Code and are not behaving like communists. For that, Volkovi sentences him to ten days in the guardhouse, beginning in the evening so that his labor won't be wasted that day. Shukhov's back aches and he is cold from opening his clothes, as the escorts begin to call the prisoners forward. In ranks of five, they pass multiple stations, manned by officers who count them at each one. A guard who misses a head must fill it with his own. Beyond the camp boundary in the heaviest cold, Shukhov ties a piece of rag around his face and pulls the brim of his hat down so that only his eyes are exposed. He rubs his hands as the chief of the escort guard recites the "morning prayer" reminding the prisoners that stepping to the left or right will be considered an attempt to escape.

Flanked by escorts carrying machine guns, the prisoners march through the cold, their hands behind their backs and eyes trained on the ground. Shukhov worries about his hidden bread, the dispensary, Buinovsky, and Tsezar as he walks. Having not eaten his bread in the morning, he is unsatisfied. As the column passes the wood-pressing factory, the workers' settlement, the new club, and finally out into the windy steppe, Shukhov thinks of the letter he will write to his family. It is now 1951, and he has been gone since '41, back when no one in Temnenovo had a radio and he had learned about the war at the post office in Polomnya. Now all the cottages have radios, and there is little sense in writing because he has more in common with his fellow prisoners than his family. The last time Shukhov wrote a letter was in July, and even when he was a prisoner at Ust-Izhma, where he was allowed to write once a month, he only wrote twice a year.

When Shukhov's wife writes to him, she tells him of routine occurrences on the kolkhoz. What Shukhov does not understand is how the kolkhoz hadn't grown at all since the war. Half of the men didn't come back and of those that did, many live in the village and work on the side. Shukhov cannot understand men not working in their own village, but his wife explains that they come back to help with the haymaking and harvesting but otherwise travel around, even on airplanes, painting carpets which are sold for 50 rubles each. They use stencils and can make any old sheet into a beautiful carpet, and Shukhov's wife wants him to become a carpet painter when he returns. Though prison has kept him from making many plans for the future, Shukhov knows that he doesn't want to have to grease palms the way a carpet painter must. He has not bribed anyone in prison and thinks he would prefer to be a plumber, carpenter, or repairman - unless the authorities deprive him of his civil rights and keep him from going home at the end of his sentence.

The column reaches the power plant site and stops. They must wait until all the guards are in their guard towers before they enter. Shukhov's back aches, and he looks at Tiurin, whom he has known since Ust-Izhma. A good squad leader, like Tiurin, can give a man a second life. Shukhov decides not to interrupt his "lofty thoughts" to ask about the day's work. Finally, the guards open the gates, and the prisoners begin to enter, again being counted, at five past eight. All the prisoners pick up scraps of firewood as they enter, and Tsezar goes to his cushy office job. Pavlo is sent somewhere by Tiurin as well. The sun rises above an area covered with trenches, foundations, machinery, and scrap metal. That moment, before they receive their work assignments, still belongs to the prisoners, and they look for somewhere warm to sit. The 104th goes into the big room in the uncompleted machine shop. It is heated with coal to help the cement slabs set, but the 38th, who set the slabs, won't let them near the stove. The 104th find places to sit in the corner to keep warm.

Shukhov finds a seat on the edge of the wooden form and realizes it did not good to save his bread. It is five hours from dinner, and he is hungry. He takes off his mittens, unwraps the now-frozen rag from his face, and begins to eat the bread, which had been kept warm close to his body. He thinks of all the food - potatoes, oatmeal, meat, milk - he had to eat in his village and how he now eats this black bread so slowly, savoring every crumb, for the past eight years. Two Estonians, close as brothers, though they met in the 104th sit near Shukhov, sharing a cigarette. Shukhov has never met a bad Estonian. Nearly everyone sits without speaking. Fetiukov has collected cigarette butts, even from spittoons and now filters the tobacco onto a piece of paper. Buinovsky tells him he will get a syphilitic lip doing that, and Fetiukov, judging by his own low standards, says that after eight years in the camp, he'll be doing the same thing.

Senka Klevshin, an unlucky man whose eardrum had been smashed in '41 and who survived Buchenwald only to be sent to the camp in Soviet Union, thinks they are talking about the frisking and tells Buinovsky he showed too much pride. Alyosha, meanwhile, sits praying. Shukhov eats nearly all his bread, saving a piece of crust to use as a spoon, and prepares for work as the 38th begins work. Tiurin has not yet returned, and the 104th feels lucky about their free time. Kilgas the Lett remarks on how long it's been since a snowstorm, when they don't have to work, mostly because the authorities are worried about prisoners escaping rather than freezing to death. Though there is often no bread or hot food during snow storms and the work has to be made up later on Sundays, the men still look forward to snowstorms. Just then, Tiurin walks in, looking gloomy, and the squad knows that it is time to work.


One aspect of Solzhenitsyn's writing that would come to characterize his novels is his ability to depict a cross-section of Russian society. In effect, the camp in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich functions as a microcosm for Soviet society under Stalin. In Shukhov's squad itself, Solzhenitsyn depicts a variety of men of different ages, nationalities, and social backgrounds. Shukhov himself is a Russian peasant. In his squad are the two Estonians, a Lett, a Baptist, a former naval Captain, and men from many walks of life. Though Solzhenitsyn himself was a university-educated intellectual - like Vdovushkin, the medical assistant who writes poetry - at the time of his own prison camp sentence, he tells the story of this one day through the eyes of a peasant.

Ivan Denisovich Shukhov is most likely a composite of many men Solzhenitsyn knew in the camps. After the book's publication in fact, many men claimed that they were the real-life inspiration for Shukhov. Others who had served in the camp with Solzhenitsyn acknowledge that there was at least one man like Shukhov in every squad. In that sense, then, Shukhov is an archetype. He is the common worker whom Communism's ideals seek to empower. Even his first name, Ivan (Russian for John) is the most common of Russian men's names. In telling his story from the point of view of Shukhov rather than himself, Solzhenitsyn makes a political as well as literary statement. In the form of Shukhov, as the reader follows him through his day, the effect of the abuses of the Stalinist system on the common man become readily and chillingly apparent.

Solzhenitsyn's choice of Shukhov as his protagonist has unavoidable effects on his narration. Shukhov is a simple, uneducated peasant, used to withstanding hardships and physical labor even in his life before the war and his incarceration in the camps. Unlike Solzhenitsyn, he is not the type of man to ruminate on the philosophical and moral meanings of camp life. Rather, his goal is simply to survive and if possible, his human dignity intact. It is significant, therefore, that Solzhenitsyn chooses to tell his story in the third person, rather than in the first person from Shukhov's point of view. Though the opinions of other characters and observances of the world around him are provided to the reader primarily through Shukhov's eyes, the choice of first person narration allows Solzhenitsyn to present experiences and viewpoints beyond that of this simple peasant. Therefore, the reader gains access to the life histories of characters like the unlucky deaf Senka, Captain Buinovksy, and Vdovushkin, and sees the effect of the camps of a wide swath of Soviet society.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich has been called an apprentice novel. It was the first book that Solzhenitsyn published, and in it, he worked out themes and concerns which he would address with more sophistication in future novels. One such subject is the fate of the Russian village under the Stalinist system, which would form the subject matter for "Matryona's Home," the short story which Solzhenitsyn would publish after One Day. Through the device of letters back and forth between Shukhov and his wife, the reader learns about the deleterious effect of the Stalinist system on kolkhozes, or collective farms. Plots are divided and subdivided, crops are planted right up to the back of cottages, and men leave to work in other occupations. The hopelessness which pervades the camp, Solzhenitsyn demonstrates, is characteristic not only of this prison but of all of Soviet society.

In Shukhov's discussion with his wife of the men who leave the kolkhoz to become carpet painters, one sees a rudimentary moral code held by the peasant. Unlike Alyosha, Shukhov is not comforted by organized religion. Nonetheless, he clings to certain notions of right and wrong imbedded within him, despite the forces in the camp and in society which push him to abandon them. Shukhov knows that to be a carpet painter "a man needed to be free and easy with people, to be brash, to know how to grease a palm or two. And although Shukhov had trodden the earth for forty years, though he'd lost half his teeth and his head was growing bald, he'd never either given or taken a bribe, nor had he learned to do so in camp." In a sense, the deprivations of camp have clarified this moral code within Shukhov; he can be certain that an action that he would stoop to in the extreme situation of camp life is something he would not do back in the world.

Though at times Shukhov's code seems somewhat arbitrary, it is important to note that his adherence to certain principles - such as taking his hat off at the table - allow him to maintain human dignity in the face of the spirit-destroying atmosphere of the camp. Those small actions which he is able to choose to do become magnified and endowed with far greater significance than they would in the outside world. Thus, it is extremely important to Shukhov that he not "lower himself like Fetiukov, he would never look at a man's mouth." To do so would be to do the same as licking another man's leftover bowl, and would set a man down the path Kuziomin described, that leads to inhumanity and death.

Fetiukov and Kuziomin are polar opposites, foils for each other in Shukhov's camp world of extremes. Fetiukov is a man who has been reduced to his most base desires. He is not above staring at a man's mouth and even demanding a puff, nor does he head the warnings of Buinovsky when he collects used cigarette butts to filter together the tobacco. Fetiukov is not only without human dignity, he lacks an appreciation for dignity, when he tells Buinovsky, "When you've been in for eight years you'll be picking them up yourself. We've seen bigger men than you in campŠ" Kuziomin - and most like Buinovsky as well - in contrast, is a true "big man." Unlike Fetiukov, whom Solzhenitsyn consistently describes as "low," Kuziomin is a prophet-like authority figure, a father-figure who provides a model for the "young men" to follow and survive. He is a man who, when Shukhov met him, had already survived twelve years as a prisoner, and his knowledge that men must live by "the law of the taiga" is based upon experience and steadfast adherence to his principals.

Nikita Khrushchev gave his permission for the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich because he anticipated it strengthening his political agenda of destalinization. As later Soviet critics made clear, though, there is little in the way of explicit political rhetoric in the book. One notable exception is in Buinovsky's confrontation with the guards. A recent prisoner, he cites the Criminal Code's regulations on illegal searches and when ignored, tells the guards they are not true Communists. What Buinovsky has yet to learn - and what the beaten-down Senka tries to tell him - is that there is no place for political ideals or rhetoric in the camp. The guards have the power to search prisoners; to argue is only to court danger. The camp system of punishment, therefore, appears even more arbitrary and unfair because of its disconnect from the political ideals of the Soviet Union. Though these men are all political prisoners, politics rarely surfaces as a meaningful issue in their lives. The camps have reduced them to a single concern - survival - for which they can only find strength within themselves, not within an abstract political ideal.

Again, Solzhenitsyn returns to his theme of freedom within confinement. During the minutes that Shukhov and his squad wait for Tiurin to return with the day's work assignment, the men are physically restricted but mentally free. "So that moment still belonged to the prisoners," he writes. It is interesting that in this Communist society, the nature of the camp system turns time into a possession, to be hoarded and counted, as Shukhov does with the minutes of "freedom" at mealtimes. Shukhov, who had at the beginning of his sentence counted the number of days served and number of days left, has long since ceased that task. Future time means little, for as Shukhov admits to himself, even when he is finished with his sentence, the government could very well exile him or not allow him to return home. For that reason, the concern with time is limited to the present moment, time which the prisoner can be sure he possesses.

These momentary freedoms are all the more poignant because of the near completeness with which the authorities control the prisoners. "The thoughts of the prisoner‹they're not free either," Solzhenitsyn writes as Shukhov marches across the cold steppe to the building site. Nonetheless, Shukhov and his fellow prisoners manage some manner of resistance, using whatever tools are at their disposal. One such tool is language. Though the guards insist in the "morning prayer" that there is to be "no talking" during the march, Shukhov knows that in warmer weather everyone talks. Even in the forms of address used between prisoners, language functions as a resistance to the subhuman stature the prison camp relegates them. Ivan Denisovich, a peasant, is referred to by the author and by his fellow prisoners by his first name and patronymic, a respectful form of address usually reserved for the upper members of society. Shukhov and his fellow prisoner's practice of addressing each other with this form of respect, therefore, is one example of their insistence of reminding themselves and each other of their value and worth as dignified human beings.