Who could possibly be able to imagine the utter hopelessness and misery that a soviet prisoner experienced during Stalinism. Thousands of innocent men were taken from their families, homes, and lives, stripped of their dignity and banished to the harsh labor camps where they were to spend the rest of the days scraping out an existence and living day to day.
This is exactly what Alexander Solzhenitsyn tries to express in his masterpiece work One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Solzhenitsyn gives the reader a glimpse into the life of every man who ever experienced this hardship and shares the small acts of thriving humanity that are sparingly, but unendingly passed through their dreary lives and offer a bit of comfort to help them get through a single hour, a day, or even just a meal time.Order now
Solzhenitsyn uses One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to portray the endurance of humanity through out terrible hardships and shows the strength of the human spirit. Through out the day Ivan observes various acts of humanity that help him and his fellow prisoners retain a portion of their dignity even though the camps are specifically designed to completely degrade their captives.
Denisovich, or Shukhov as he is called, uses small acts of consideration to help him and his gang get through the day. On the second page of the book, the reader learns that Shukhov often gets up early in the morning so that he may have a little time to himself and so he may even “bring one of the big gang bosses his dry felt boots while he was still in his bunk, to save him the trouble of hanging around the pile of boots in his bare feet and trying to find his own. ” pg. 2.
Though Shukhov may do various odd jobs such as “running around to one of the supply rooms where there might be a little job, sweeping or carrying something” or “going to the mess hall to pick up bowls from the tables and take piles of them to the dishwashers” in order to receive extra food, but this can also be seen as an act of honor. Rather than doing an underhanded deed such as stealing food from innocent men the way the camp orderlies do, Shukhov tries to earn his food through honest work such as repairing boots, making things to sell, or doing extra work.
One of the most important subjects in One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is their meals. The distribution and consumption of food shows enormous insight into the generosity, humanity, and the attempts made by the prisoners to maintain their values. Solzhenitsyn portrays the dedication of the men to each others well being by placing the characters in situations in which they must rely on each other for their food. Early in the novel, Shukhov misses his breakfast but the men in his gang would “â€¦ keep his breakfast for him and didn’t have to be told. pg. 8.
When the men have their noon meal, Ivan helps to finagle two extra bowls of food for his gang. Though there a numerous men in the gang that would love to have extra food, Pavlo the assistant gang boss decides to give it to a man who is new to the camps and has not yet “learned the ropes. ” pg. 91. The way in which Pavlo decides who the soup should go to is noble in itself, let alone the fact that the other men in the gang don’t argue with or harass him about their claim to the extra food.
The small bowl of food lifts the prisoners’ spirits and Shukhov even goes so far as to wish that the new prisoner would receive another extra bowl of food, rather that wishing for a extra bowl himself. The gang members show compassion for one another and in essence they are keeping their humanity by not allowing their situation to wear away at their human kindness. They are not completely selfish and look out for each other. After an intense day in the bitter cold, Shukhov is anxious to return “home” for the evening.
When the prisoners return to the camp, Shukhov offers to go to the package room and wait in line for a man named Caesar who frequently receives packages from the “outside”. Shukhov hopes that Caesar will get a package and will give him some food or tobacco in return for his assistance. Caesar does receive a package, but Shukhov refuses to come out and ask for anything, his dignity does not allow him to beg even though he wants to. Caesar willingly offered his evening meal and his bread ration to Shukhov, as well as some of the sausage and cookies he got from his package.
This is an example of the instances in which the men look out for each other. Caesar has no obligation to Shukhov and there is no benefit for him to give away some of his precious goods, but he charitably gives over some of his food with out even being asked. The rituals and selfless acts that are carried on by the men in camp show their undying devotion to their morals and ethics. One of the first practices presented by Solzhenitsyn is the removal of one’s cap during meal time. This ceremony is very impractical considering the seventeen below zero temperature, but the prisoners continue the tradition nonetheless.
Shukhov notices that the highly admired gang boss Tiruin, had “never learned to eat with his cap onâ€¦” pg. 97. Shukhov also observes that the prisoners try to carry on much the same as they did on the outside, “Even in the camp they were polite to people and addressed them by their full name. “pg. 26. The prisoners continue to address each other with the same degree of respect and this shows how they strive to preserve each others dignity. The prisoners of the “special” camp take strides to making their days bearable.
Not only do the prisoners uphold certain traditions, such as Shukhov’s refusal to eat fish eyes if they are out of the sockets, but they extend their generosity and compassion and ask for nothing in return. The character of Caesar is an excellent embodiment of this aspect. He is a wealthy man who is willing to share the prized possessions that he receives once every few weeks. In this one day in Shukhov’s life, we see Caesar generously donating the rest of his cigarette to Shukhov, without it even being requested.
He also gives Shukhov and another gang member some of the delicious sausage that has been sent to him. Though Caesar is presented as a somewhat lazy man who has been able to avoid the suffering of hard labor in the freezing Russian outdoors because of his wealth, he does have his redeeming characteristic, generosity. This small bit of kindness shows the reader that the camps have failed in dehumanizing its captives. The prisoners continue to hold on to basic decency.
Though the camp is a place filled with suffering and misery, the men continue to exhibit acts of humanity in their day to day lives that slip by in a haze of despair. The only way that these men survive this vicious life is by grasping on to the little bits of kindness that can be seen in trivial actions and events during their day. The prisoners’ dedication to uplifting each other is inspiring and is a lesson and example to every human being of the power of human kindness and how greatly it can affect those around us.