Day in the Life

Although the critically acclaimed prose of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich has been diminished through translation, Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivers a powerful novel which exposes the tribulations and inhumanity in Russian labor camps in the 1930s. Ivan Denisovich is a former soldier who was sentenced to ten years in a labor camp located in Siberia. As long as the temperature did not drop to negative forty-one degrees, Ivan and the other prison inmates were sent out in groups to perform tasks which mostly involved construction or heavy labor. The prisoners were malnourished, ill equipped for the elements, and abused by prison staff on a daily basis.

Something that interested me as I read this novel was the fact that the events took place over the course of a day, which makes the reader think of the potential types and severities of events which simply did not occur in that time frame. Another thing which stuck out to me was the fact that labor is seen as a type of privilege–it was unfortunate to have your rights to perform labor stripped because otherwise it was harder to stay warm and feel alive.

Probably my favorite quote from this novel may have been the saying “How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand a man who’s cold?”. (23) It is used repeatedly and represents the two sides of “us” and “them” that is a ubiquitous theme when learning about Russian class relations.

2 thoughts on “Day in the Life

  1. I loved how the entirety of the book took place in one single day. I think it really highlighted just how many miserable experiences and tough choices the gulag workers faced. Just thinking about how Ivan had been in the labor camp for well over a year was unbelievable to me. I kept asking myself how he–how anyone–could carry on in such a terrible environment.

    The quote that you mentioned reminds me of how quick a workers situation could change. One minute Ivan is laying in bed, about to muster the energy to wake up, and the next he is in trouble with the guard. And the next? His punishment is so meager he welcomes it. I imagine a man can switch from being “cold” to “warm” and back again several times throughout one day.

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