One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich

The story of Ivan Denisovich is a telling tale of the human spirit and it’s will to survive. The author was able to make you feel the emotions of what life was truly like in the typical day of an inmate in the gulag. Ivan story seems to be a typical story of an individual that was accused of being a spy and guilty of treason against the soviet empire. The fact that other individuals in the same camp found themselves there under the same pretext shows it was a rather common crime, or in other words was a crime the government used to classify someone they believed had done something wrong. The fact a person had to make a choice to either face a firing squad if they denied the charge or admit to treason and go to the gulag show that the government had no desire to find out if there was any merit to the accusation.


The author highlighted the theme, not of escape, freedom, injustice; allusion to these theme appear throughout the account, yet while important, these themes to an inmate are irrelevant. Nothing can change why they are in the gulag. The only thing a prisoner can think about is survival. The account brings to the fore this issue by placing emphasis on two reoccurring areas, food and warmth. The amount of time in just one day a person thinks about food and the extent that a person’s life revolves around getting food only to make it to the next day. So much effort by the author goes into describing food, the rationing out of it, when and how much, as well as the type and the result of deprivation of food. The book really puts into perspective the condition of the gulag, and the human spirit will to survive.

What Makes a Good Soviet?

What makes one a good Soviet? Being faithful to Stalin? Being faithful to Marx? In his novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn examines these questions. Solzhenitsyn implies throughout his novella that a good Soviet is faithful to Marx and the ideals of communism, not the dictatorship that Stalin created.

Among the prisoners in the camp, there is a sense of camaraderie. For example, Fetiukov saves Shukhov’s breakfast for him when he is late (p.15). Even though they are not allowed to be called “comrade,” they are each other’s comrades, and seem to embody the ideals of communism more so than the guards and other authorities. Solzhenitsyn illustrates this on page 34 when Buinosky says to the guards, “You’re not behaving like Soviet people, you’re not behaving like communists.”

Do the prisoners share comradeship because they share a common enemy and/or common struggles in life? Or did Solzhenitsyn include this element because he was influenced by the Soviet system? I think the latter is unlikely. Solzhenitsyn spent time in a Soviet prison camp, and had his citizenship revoked and was deported in 1974, so it seems doubtful that he would be concerned with Soviet ideals.

So, what makes a good Soviet? Was Stalin a good Soviet? Are the guards good Soviets? Are the prisoners? Why?

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich describes the working and living conditions of a Russian labor camp by examining the lives of its prisoners.  All of these men ended up in the camp by being deemed enemies of the state, and the purpose of the camp is to reteach them how to be productive members of the Communist party.  However, some of the values that are prominent in the camp ironically go against those of Communism.  The prisoners are viewed as below so-called “comrades” in the outside world to the point that they are dehumanized.  There is also a distinct hierarchical structure within the camp, which is emphasized when Solzhenitsyn describes how Shukhov refuses to take certain jobs because “there were others lower than him” (15).  The niceties that are enjoyed by the prison staff come at the expense of the labor of the convicts, who are not allowed to use the facilities which they have built (38).   Bribery through gifts of extra rations is also a common method of getting out of having to undertaking work projects with poorer conditions.  Overall, the idea of all citizens being equal is not enforced within the camp, and the only value it shares with the idealistic view of Communism is the importance of hard work.  Does the hypocrisy of the camp accurately portray the hypocrisy of the Soviet government at the time in which the novella takes place?

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a compelling account of life in the Russian gulag system, based on Solzhenitsyn’s experiences. It deals with the various trials of living in labour camp, and strikingly presents the idea of the relativity of good fortune. A perfect example is the apparent good fortune of Ivan, because he sleeps in the barracks instead of the cells (165). However, the alternative example that I wish to focus on, is Solzhenitsyn’s  commentary on the Russian Orthodox Church. He describes Alyosha, a fellow prisoner who has been imprisoned for his Baptist beliefs. He is described as a naive prisoner, who does not understand the methods for survival within the camp. However, in one exchange between Ivan and Alyosha, the latter talks about the betrayal of the Orthodox Church. He implies that the Orthodox Church’s attempts to work within the communist system is a sin, and that those men who are imprisoned are more righteous in the eyes of the Lord (162-3). This opinion that prison is a method of penance raises a question pertaining to the legality and authority of the Orthodox Church. While the Church collaborated with the government to ensure it’s survival, what was the sentiment of the common man? Did the everyday Orthodox priest loyally follow the Church’s orders, or were they defiant like Alyosha and the other sects of Christianity?

Solzhenitsyn — It was a Good Day

Does anything really  go wrong for Shukhov in “One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich”?Nah — to use the words of rapper Ice Cube — “it was a good day.”

So, how does Solhenitsyn convey the trials of camp life? Despite Shukhov’s experience at maneuvering camp politics and his relatively optimistic outlook, the audience can still see the hardships through how Shukhov notes his surroundings. The way he comments on the other ” zeks’ ” behavior, on how it will affect their lives in the camp, depict many of the lessons he has had to learn in the camps. Many instances of punishment or distress we read in this novel are portrayed through Shukhov’s experienced view. Ultimately, he does serve his sentence. But, Shukhov does this after being worn down by camp life and having to rebuild himself on experience. He knows who to avoid, and why; who to trust, and why; the politics of the camp, and how to maneuver; and the consequences the newer zeks face in the 104th due to their inexperience.

I’ve included a censored version of Ice Cube’s song below to illustrate the similar methods employed to depict hardship.

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