One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Story of a Siberian
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a story about a man, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, who is in a Russian Siberian prison/labor camp for expression of anti-Stalinistic ideas. The story describes the events of a single day in this man’s life and his struggle to survive. I feel that the main theme of this book is survival. However, Ivan shows the reader that survival on your own isn’t always possible. You can only provide so much for yourself on your own. People must work as a team, helping one another, in order to get things accomplished, overcome challenges, and survive. “Shukhov withstands the conditions of the camp while it would be easy to give in to despair” (Des Pres 49).
When he arrived in the camp, Ivan realized that it would be hard to survive the environment. Little food was given and the prisoners only received what they needed to stay alive. They were treated as though they weren’t human. Cognizant that it would be necessary to work with others in order to survive, Ivan spends some of his time daily doing things to help others.
Through the good deeds that Ivan accomplishes, he earns the respect of the other prisoners and is sometimes rewarded with extra food. He does simple things like laying out other prisoner’s shoes for them or bringing some of them their food at a meal. One time, Ivan waits in line to get Tsezar his parcel. Tsezar is a “rich” prisoner who works little or not at all and talks about the luxuries outside of the prison. When Ivan returns, he asks Tsezar if he can bring dinner to him. Tsezar instead allows Ivan to have his dinner. Shukhov helps Tsezar out an awful lot, and he is rewarded almost each and every time with a piece of food or something from Tsezar’s parcel. Every little bit helped.
Everyone does what he can to benefit the 104th squad (Ivan’s squad, led by Tiurin) as a whole. One time, Ivan notices that the cook had made a mistake, and gave the squad the wrong number of rations. When he informs the cook of this error, the squad’s rations were corrected and Ivan received some extra food. Also, an effort was made by Tiurin to prevent the squad from working in the so-called “Socialist Way of Life” settlement in which the 104th would have to work outside in the freezing cold, rather than in the less frigid temperature that they were already used to at the construction site. When the group went out to work, they all put in their best effort. Because it is cold at the building they are working, Ivan and Kilgas (both masons) find a piece of roofing felt and use it as insulation to help keep the 104th warm. The harder that they work, the more food they receive. They also stay warm if they work at a steady pace. “Through these characters and their situations, he (Solzhenitsyn) demonstrates to the reader that sometimes working for the good of the group achieves a more positive result than working for the good of oneself.” (“Character responses and situations in
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich shows that it is necessary to rely upon others to help yourself. Through our own efforts, we provide what is in our immediate need. But we aren’t all geniuses. We can’t possibly do everything on our own. Sometimes we need more than ourselves alone can provide. This is when we must look towards the people around us for support. Ivan lived at time in a country which provided for its citizens only if they gave their part back to it. Only those in the highest echelons of the government would receive the best care, food, and other supplies. Those that made any offense against the country, or did not do their part, were shipped of to Siberia, to a camp similar to Ivan’s. Once at the camp, learning to work together with others was their best chance at survival. Ivan’s ability to work with others, and provide for himself at the same time, changed the harsh life that was before him into something that wasn’t that bad. He was actually happy with what went on in the day and was able to go to sleep. “There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail.” (Solzhenitsyn 203)
Fortunately for us, we live in a society that works as a collective. Many people work to accomplish a single job every day. Someone is always trying to better our way of life. The more we are able to work together, the easier our lives will be. One person alone can’t do everything by him or herself. We just aren’t that smart. But, be it the doctors, the farmers, the scientists, the businessmen, or just simply me and you, all of us have to work together to survive. The people in Ivan’s squad were very different from each other. It was only in setting these differences aside, that the 104th was able to get along and get things done. They (Ivan’s squad) worked “as though neither would have air enough to breathe without the other,” (Solzhenitsyn 44).
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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a story about a man, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, who is in a Russian Siberian prison/labor camp for expression of anti-Stalinistic ideas. […]