One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

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

Signal to End Work to Evening Recount pages 103-124:

The rail has just clanged, signaling the end of work, but the squad still has an entire box of mortar remaining that will freeze and be useless if left overnight. The men throw themselves into their work on the wall, with Shukhov rushing to and fro helping out. When they notice that the other squads are beginning to head to the gates, Tiurin orders them to throw the mortar into a hole and cover it with snow to hide it. Pavlo goes to collect and hand in tools, and Shukhov, Kilgas, and Senka stay to use up the other two loads of mortar. Worried that Tiurin will be reprimanded for the trowels being handed in late, Shukhov suggests that Kilgas and Senka give theirs to Gopchik to hand in, since his isn't on the list. Kilgas runs off with the tools after Gopchik, and it appears the men are beginning to be counted at the gates. Tiurin urges him to sling the rest of the mortar over the wall, but Shukhov tells him to leave but insists on finishing.

Shukhov and Senka, now the only two left, hurry and finally use up the rest of the mortar on the wall. Shukhov takes the time to appreciate how straight and even it is. Senka is already running down the ramp but Shukhov tells him to run ahead. He hides his trowel under a stone in the machine shop then catches up with Senka. They run through a crowd of angry, booing men to reach their squad., which is just forming fives to be counted. Shukhov looks up and sees the moon, and asks Buinovsky where the old moon goes. Shukhov learned in his village that God crumbles up the old moon every month to make new stars to replace those that have fallen. Buinovsky thinks he's an idiot. The two of them are at the back of the ranks as the guards count again. Someone is missing.

The prisoners are angry because the recounts waste time in the evening that belongs to them. The head guard asks Tiurin if anyone in his squad is missing, and he says no. The ranks of five had formed as the men happened to be standing. Now, the guards make them form squads. The 104th has not brought any firewood, which the men sneak through every night in the hopes that the guards will not make them drop all of it, to supplement the coal dust they are given for their barracks stoves. No one is missing in the 104th, but someone - a little Moldavian, who was a real Rumanian spy, not a prison-made "spy" like Shukhov and many others - in the 32nd is missing. Everyone, including Shukhov, becomes angry at the Moldavian for not finishing work when he was supposed to, even though an hour earlier Shukhov himself was not ready to stop. It's getting very cold, and the men begin to discuss whether the Moldavian could have escaped. Tiurin and Buinovsky share a cigarette and talk about film and about a depiction of oversize maggots in meat that now the prisoners would only be too happy to eat.

The Moldavian is brought back from the repair shop, where he'd crawled up to do some plastering and fallen asleep. His deputy squad leader punches him in the face and a Hungarian from his own squad kicks him from behind. The head of the escort orders the men to back up from the gates and form fives for yet another recount. The men start booing him now and he threatens to make them lie down in the snow till dawn. The zeks draw back from the gates and nervously look toward the back of the crowd to see if there are now three men in the last row. Shukhov is worried that there will be four, an extra man, but it turns out it is only Fetiukov who had wandered out of line for a smoke. The guard hits him but counts three, and the gates finally open.

Only when the last prisoner is off the site and the numbers are confirmed are the sentries allowed to leave their towers. Some guards will allow the prisoners to start walking, assuming the sentries will catch up, but tonight, an idiot guard makes them wait in the cold. Now, their evening and the possibility of doing anything of their own in the camp is lost. Shukhov hears Buinovsky and another man talking. Buinovsky spent a month on board a British cruiser as a liaison office, and after the war, a British admiral sent him a gift as a token of gratitude, which made the Soviet government suspicious. The escort finally lets them go, but they know they're the last column and despite his demands they hurry up, they walk with measured tread. Shukhov considers going to dispensary again but realizes his back no longer hurts and his fever won't be high enough. He hopes instead for the opportunity to supplement his dinner if Tsezar gets another package.

Suddenly, the column starts running. They have spotted the column from the machine works and now there is the possibility of not being the last ones back. Now the escort seems like their friend and the other column the enemy. Since prisoners throats have begun getting cut in their sleep, the guards have taken extra time searching the column from the machine works, in case they are bringing back knives. Shukhov's column doesn't want to wait while the guards search them. Shukhov heard that the men from the machine works brought back twenty knives inside poles for a volleyball net back in the summer. Shukhov's column has taken the lead as they round a corner and are certain they'll get back first. The camp is flooded with light to aid in the searching of the prisoners. As they approach, a guard demands they drop their firewood and some zeks yell at other zeks inside the column who attempt to conceal it. The zek's main enemy is another zek. The guards make them unbutton their coats but the prisoners don't mind so much now because they're going "home." They never have time to think of another home.

Shukhov offers to run to the parcels office and keep a place in line for Tsezar in case he gets a parcel. The guards are about to frisk him when Shukhov realizes he still has the bit of hacksaw blade, for which he intended to find a use on the work site, in his pants pocket. He could drop it in the snow but he knows he could make little knife out of it to do cobbler work and make money for food. He hides it in one of his mittens, which he holds together behind his other mitten in one hand, and opens his coat, approaching an older, more fed up guard very subserviently to be frisked. The guard crushes the first mitten in his hand and Shukhov offers up a little prayer to God, for he knows the punishment for being found with an object classified as a knife is ten days in the guardhouse, which could leave a man so weak he might not recover. The escort chief calls for the guards to begin searching the machine works column, and the guard lets Shukhov pass.

The head guard speaks to Priakhov, Volkovoi's deputy, and calls the Moldavian out of the column. They are going to charge him with attempting to escape and put him in the cells. The guards open another set of gates and make the prisoners form fives again. Evening recount, when they are famished and freezing, is hardest for the prisoners, who look forward to their bowls of thin, burned cabbage soup. After recount, the prisoners become free men again. After passing through four sets of gates, they can go where the like. The squad leaders must remain and go to the planning office for the officer who assigns work. As soon as he gets through the gates, Shukhov runs toward the parcels office, while Tsezar goes to check the list of prisoners who have received parcels that day.


Solzhenitsyn continues the theme of finding freedom through the act of working in this part of his novel. The prisoners are angry that they are forced to wait and return to camp so late in the evening not only because they have lost their only free time during the day but, more specifically, because "there'd be no time now to do anything of their own in camp." Shukhov is eager to return to do whatever work he can - on this night, to pick up Tsezar's package, in hopes of gaining a share of his food, and in the future, perhaps to use the hacksaw blade to earn something by fixing shoes - not to rest or go to the dispensary. Though this is a forced labor camp, work itself is not the punishment. Rather, this labor is punishment because the individual has no choice in what he does. Solzhenitsyn and his protagonist find merit in the act of work, though they condemn the imposition of work through force.

Even in his work assignment, however, Shukhov finds a degree of freedom in his work. Because he has become so skilled a mason, able to judge as well with his eye as one might with a straight edge, Shukhov works for his own satisfaction more than he works because he must. That Shukhov refused to waste the mortar and took the time to skillfully complete the wall even when according to prison regulation, he should have ceased work and returned to the gate for the evening count, demonstrates that he has made the work assigned to him his own. In choosing to continue working even when he was supposed to - and when many others did - stop, Shukhov asserts his own will upon the work and demonstrates that he is not completely controlled by the camp authorities.

In the end, for Shukhov, all work is about survival. On one level, he must work as much as possible - in the evening, doing errands for others or perhaps cobbling - to gain enough food and favors to survive. Therefore, work beyond what is required of him by the camp is necessary to ensure his survival. On another level, though, Shukhov must not preserve just his body but also his mind and spirit during his term in the camp. Taking pride in his work, whether as a mason or a cobbler, protects Shukhov's sense of himself and provides him with the dignity necessary to remain human under these inhumane conditions. To lose that second sense of work's importance would reduce Shukhov to the level of Fetiukov, who works only as much as he must and maintains no dignity or self-respect.

In depicting Shukhov and Senka's race to finish the wall after the end of the work day, Solzhenitsyn is not condemning the Communist system, under the ideology of which the worker is paramount. Rather, Solzhenitsyn is criticizing Stalin's implementation of this Soviet ideology, in a way in which work is raised up as more important than the worker. In Senka's work at Shukhov's side and his willingness to wait for Shukhov to run back to the gate together, Solzhenitsyn depicts the worker solidarity that was originally at the heart of the Communist ideology. Senka and Shukhov are idealized views of the Communist worker who tries his hardest for the sake of the work rather than for a reward and whose loyalty to his fellow worker is the source of his power.

Repeatedly, however, Solzhenitsyn criticizes the true relationship between workers in Stalin's prison camps - and implicitly, in Stalin's Soviet Union. "Who's the zek's main enemy?" he asks. "Another zek. If only they weren't at odds with one another‹ah, what a difference that'd make!" The authorities which govern this system depend on the prisoner-workers to be at odds with one another as a means of controlling them. In effect, they are subverting the very foundation upon which the Communist ideology is built. The Marxist concept of Revolution is based upon the strength of united workers. The "difference that'd make" if the zeks banded together and worked toward a common purpose is in fact Revolution. Solzhenitsyn depicts a Communist society, in the form of the Stalinist prison camp system, already in need of another Revolution to free its workers from oppression.

The theme of zek against zek is one Solzhenitsyn repeats throughout the novel, from his depiction of squealers whose throats are cut, to the competition for food and cigarettes, to the antagonism between squads and columns. Though individual relationships, such as that between Shukhov and Senka, demonstrate another, more idealized possibility of friendship and solidarity within the camp system, antagonism between prisoners is exceedingly common. In creating an enormous prison camp system where this conflict between individual workers is the status quo, the Soviet authorities have - perhaps deliberately - created a system subverting the ideals of Communism.