‘”Ivan Denisovich” despite its subject matter is in the final instance, a celebration of the human spirit in the face of extreme adversity’ Discuss Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” portrays literally one day of the life of a Russian prisoner in a concentration camp. Conditions there are harsh and horrendous, no matter in shelter, clothing, or food. However, it is evident that despite all this, the novel is in the long run a celebration of the human spirit, as many virtues are manifested.
First and foremost, the prisoners have ingenuity. Shukhov, the protagonist, is a typical example. When building the wall, he often organizes the bricks mentally, “visualized the shape of block needed”, and “divided the wall mentally to where he’ll lay blocks”. In doing so, he acquires his wall building skills, we see this through use of the declarative short sentence “Shukhov made no mistakes”. In describing frost on the windows, Solzhenitsyn uses a specific measure word, “two “fingers” thick.
This shows how the prisoners, though denied access to their own tools, are able to adapt and use their own ways to survive, using fingers instead of a ruler to measure frost. Some prisoners are also diligent and responsible. In the morning, “Shukhov never overslept ri?? veille”, and he would often be “offering to be of service”. These two lines emphasize Shukhov’s diligence, responsibility despite harsh conditions he has to endure. Tiurin is shown to be a responsible team leader.
“He would never make them work for nothing”, he would always feed his team for their work. Here, this line reflects Tiurin’s responsibility towards the team members, especially as this description is from Shukhov, a worker in this team’s perspective. Although Captain Buinovsky is new and clumsy at climbing the ramp to deliver cement, “every time” he came up “he worked more briskly” as he strives to work faster, showing us how there are definitely some hard-working prisoners. Not just ingenuity and diligence, there are prisoners who maintain their dignity.
While many prisoners suffer from hunger and cannot resist the temptation to lick bowls of others, Shukhov’s first team leader Kuziomin, warns that “those who lick other men’s left-overs” are the “ones the camps finish off”. Through this direct quotation, Kuziomin shows how he maintains his dignity by not licking other’s bowls, and informs others of the importance of dignity, which Shukhov “had never forgotten”. Dignity is also maintained when prisoners can make a choice in what they want to eat and not to eat, as well as their speeds of eating, since authorities for once do not control their decision.
For example, even in the bleak coldness of the camp, Shukhov takes off his hat every time before eating, even with a “clean shaven head”. This action is symbolic, as it shows Shukhov is able to preserve elements, habits of his old life, and that this represents the polite dignity of a gentleman rather than a beggar settling down to eat. He also makes choices as to not “eat fish eyes if they are not in their sockets”, to eat very slowly so as to relish his meal.