Prof. Hal Goldman
April 2, 2018
One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) is a novel by Alexandre Solzhenitsyn based on his time spent in Soviet labour camps as a prisoner and is meant to showcase how brutal and how dehumanizing these labour camps were. Prisoners were reduced to nothing but a number, forced to live in terrible conditions, eat terrible food, and work back breaking jobs all day every day. The camps were a place that was used to show the prisoners the to the government of the Soviet Union they were nothing. But these camps, no matter how hard they tried to break the prisoners spirits and reduce them to nothing, they instead brought the prisoners closer together and made each prisoner feel like they were someone and important. The camps also show something else besides comradeship, it shows how Russia and the Soviet Union was during Joesph Stalin’s time in power.
A reveille was sounded at 5 a.m. as it always is, on a cold winter morning where Ivan Denisovich Shukhov laid in his bed. He normally got up when the reveille was sounded, but because he had been feeling ill the night before he stayed in bed until past the wake-up call, hoping a kinder guard was on duty that morning. The guard was not who he expected, and for oversleeping Shokhov was threatened to e punished by being put in “the can”, which was what the prisoners called the solitary confinement cells. Shokhov was instead punished by being forced to clean the floors of the officer’s headquarters, which he did fast and did a good job with. He then went to the mess hall to catch breakfast, where he meets Fetyukov, who got Shukhov’s food for him. After eating, Shukhov went to the sick bay to get examined, but was told he was not sick enough to get out of work today. He then returns in time to get searched, as they did every morning, where the guards would look for contraband that the prisoners may have. After the search Shukhov and his group get sent to work on a power station. He takes the time to observe some of the other prisoners in his group. Alyoshka is a member of the group who is a baptist and is happy to work in the harsh conditions. Tyurin is the foreman of the group, and Shukhov respects him. They start working on the power station but stop early for lunch. After lunch they begin to mortar the power station when an officer in the cam, Pavlo, comes and becomes a part of the mortar team, which wins over the group’s respect for him. The meal signal for dinner is called and the men walk back to the mess hall. They get stopped for another body count and Shukhov is worried that he will get in trouble for having a piece of scrap metal on him, but the guard searching does not find it. Shukhov then heads over to the parcel room and waits in line for a parcel for Tsezar. After getting his parcel he goes back to the mess hall and gets his ration of food, before bringing Tsezar his parcel. He bings Tsezar his parcel and is rewarded with a few extra biscuits and some sausage. There is a final search and then it is time for them to go to bed. Shukhov prays, thanking God for getting him through another day. The novel ends saying that this was just one day in the 3653 days of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov’s sentence.
Life in the Russian labour camps was harsh. The camp itself is dirty, cold, and dark. The guards that patrol and control the camp are oppressive and tyrannical, making prisoners wake up at specific time, making them get searched multiple times a day, telling them when they can eat and how much they can eat, and making the prisoners take part in back breaking jobs like cleaning the floors (7-10), to building and repairing power stations. The days for the prisoners are long and brutal, only broken up by the meals given at certain hours and the search conducted by the guards. The main goal of the labour camps are to crush the spirits of the prisoners sentenced to work there, which is showcased by how the whole camp is designed and how it functions. Its extremely crowded as a barracks is home to 200 men and there are only 50 bunks for the men to sleep on. The lines to the mess hall are long and the mess hall itself is crowded at meal times and they didn’t get much time to eat their meal. Prisoners had very little time to themselves and took advantage of it whenever they could. Life in the labour camps was hard but the prisoners dealt with it and made the most of it.
In the Soviet labour camps, as portrayed in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, prisoners have a fairly routine schedule day to day. They wake up, and start their day with a body count and search.They then go and eat their first meal of the day, breakfast, before heading out to work. The prisoners, in their groups, work together on a task, and in the case of the novel, the task for Shukhov and his group was bricklaying and mortaring a power station. They then get a second meal, lunch, before returning to work to finish their task. At their third meal, dinner, the prisoners are searched again before they get to eat. They then return to their bunks before one final search is conducted and then their day is finished. The next day the cycle repeats, the only thing that may switch up is the job that the prisoners have to work on. The work of the labour camps is meant to crush the spirits of the prisoners, and they prisoners each have a way to cope with it. Alyoshka prays and uses his religion as a way to cope with the work and the way he is treated. It was a way to survive, and each prisoner had their own way of dealing.
The labour camps that are portrayed in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which were widespread in Stalin’s Russia, were made to break prisoners sense of self and individuality, as well as destroy every little bit of faith they had left in them. They break the prisoners sense of self and individuality by removing names when guards talk to prisoners, like when Comrade Warder addressed Shukhov not by his name but by “S-854”, his number (5). This elimination of names in the novel showcases how the camps tried removing any human aspects and tried reducing the prisoners to numbers that can easily be discarded and replaced. The novel, although, shows that even though the labour caps were trying to dehumanize the prisoners, the prisoners themselves find ways to be individual and to try to stay as human as possible. They call each other by their names, not by their numbers. In their “gangs” they look out for each other, and go so far as to saving each others food if one prisoner cannot make it to the mess hall on time (11), and sticking together helping each other out when it came time to work, not leaving each other to do their own thing, but instead they worked together and used human interactions to get their back breaking work done. No matter how much the labour camps pushed the prisoners to become nothing but a number and a slave, the more the prisoners pushed back to stay human and be more than what the labour camps wanted them to be, without getting themselves into trouble.
The labour camps in the novel One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, really show how Joesph Stalin ran Russia while he was in power as well as how he felt during that time. The labour camps are crudely made but effective at their job, which is keeping prisoners in and making them work, which is how Russia was run during the time of Stalin. The Russians made the most out of what they had and they were effective at it. The way the labour camps are run shows how the people felt during Stalin’s reign. How the warders treat the prisoners and how they lived is an example of how the higher ups in Stalin’s government and inner circle lived and portrayed themselves, living in slightly better conditions than most of the Soviet Union but still living in poorer conditions. The same can be said about how the prisoners live in the labour camps, with poor living conditions, rationed food and materials, and being told what to do and when to do it every day was like how the vast majority of the population of the Soviet Union lived during the time of Stalin. Except instead of the prison guards and warders telling the people what to do it wad the government officials and police that made the population yield to Joesph Stalin’s reign. Even the reasons why the prisoners were in the labour camps shows how Stalin was feeling during his time in power. The prisoners were in for very trivial reasons, Shukhov was captured by the Germans in World War 2 and the Soviets accused him of being a spy because of it, Gopchik took milk out to the woods to give to freedom fighters, and Tyurin was born rich. These reasons as to why they were locked up into these camps really showcases Joesph Stalin’s paranoia, how he thought everyone was out get him and that everyone could be an enemy.
The labour camps set up by Joesph Stalin in the Soviet Union, as showcased by the novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, were brutal camps designed to break prisoners spirits and turn them into slaves for the country. Prisoners were dehumanized, being referred to by a number sewn on their clothes and sent to do back breaking jobs all day, everyday. While the camps were meant to break down prisoners, instead the prisoners found ways to stay strong and be human, by working together and building bonds with other prisoners in their prison groups. The labour camps were brutal and the work was hard, but the prisoners had a strong will that the camps and the government couldn’t break.