The Role of Tobacco in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich places an inordinate amount of emphasis on the role of tobacco in the Gulag, a luxury one normal does not consider readily accessible to convicts stuck in the middle of Siberia. The main character, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov exemplifies the obsession with this drug, even to the point that he takes a loan out for it. After an unusually large portion for lunch, Shukhov cites an insatiable craving for it, a craving which is odd seeing how this man was previously just worrying about whether or not he would get extra food.

Tobacco influences how Shukhov spends his day from the minute he rises to the time he goes to bed. Shukhov second-guesses going to the infirmary in order to possibly secure some tobacco even with his feverish pains and aches. After he fails to secure more tobacco, he manages to beg Tsezar for his cigarette butt, which he then proceeds to smoke until it burns his lips. After his loaner cigarette, Shukhov then waits in line for Tsezar in an attempt to get more tobacco or even any sort of reward for his assistance, before finally going to see his tobacco dealer, where he pays CASH for two small glasses of it. Because cash was not a common commodity in the camps, this signifies just how desperate for tobacco Shukhov is. This luxury, more than food or sleep, gives him the motivation to survive.

Because of the camp conditions, particularly in regards to food and staying warm, it is interesting to see how much emphasis Shukhov places on securing tobacco, rather than trading it to others for more food or other materials that could improve his quality of life. While there are limited goods Shukhov could have due to regulations, it seems a little ridiculous that he emphasis this good so heavily rather than finding better ways to stay warm or items such as firewood to help with his living conditions.