Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Term Paper

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Ivan Denisovich

In Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962), Special Camp 104 represents the entire Soviet Union in microcosm, as a kind on anti-Utopia or dystopia. In other words, Special Camp 104 is Stalin's Soviet Union, a totalitarian police state in which the population is mostly slave labor, except for those who manage to obtain slightly more privileged positions as overseers through luck, cunning, bribery or connections. As the title indicates, the entire story is told through the eyes of the narrator, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, Special Prisoner S-854, from the time he wakes up in the morning until he goes to sleep at night. Shukhov is not a great hero or political dissident, but an ordinary Russian peasant who was sent to the camp because he was taken prisoner by the Germans in World War II, contrary to Stalin's orders. As soon as these men were freed from the Nazi camps -- the few who survived -- they ended up in the Soviet GULAG or Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps. Like most of the prisoners or zecs in these labor camps. Shukhov was simply an ordinary worker, and during his day his task was to work on the construction site of a power plant. His main concern is not to revolt against the authorities of even protest mildly against the system, but simply obtain enough food, clothing and warmth to continue on another day, and he even takes pride over how much work he can do with so little food. He is not an educated or reflective man and thinks little about the larger political and social questions, but through his seemingly simple narrative the broader outlines of Stalinist society become clear. At the top of the hierarchy is the Boss or Commandant (Stalin) who is never seen and whose name is unspoken, and like a god or monarch he rules over the prison state through a hierarchy of officers, warders, prisoner foreman, trustees and informers.
At the bottom are the masses of workers and peasants like Shukhov, who do all the work and the fighting, are provided with a minimal level of food, clothing and shelter, and are generally treated like cattle.

Throughout Shukhov's day, he encounters the other inhabitants of the camp, who also represents various types found in the larger Soviet society. Alyosha the Baptist and other religious dissidents, glory in their suffering because they are being persecuted for following Christ, while Buynovski is a former naval Captain and the only self-identified Communist in the camp. He has only been there three months and is still appalled by the violations of Soviet 'rights' and 'legality' in the camp -- as if such terms had any meaning at all. Alyosha cunningly hides his Bible from the guards and glorifies God for this persecution (Solzhenitsyn 20). His resistance is quiet but determined while the Captain screams at the camp officers "You are nor Soviets!....You are not Communists!," and gets ten days in solitary confinement as additional punishment (Solzhenitsyn 27). Tyurin is their gang boss or slave taskmaster, who has been a prisoner himself for nineteen years and is generally perceived as firm but fair. Caesar is a fortunate and rich zec who gets packages from home and is able to bribe his way into a warm and comfortable office job, while the scavenger Fetykov gets nothing from the outside at all and is therefore part of the social underclass. He is the kind of man who would steal a potato from the soup cauldrons instead of sharing it with the other zecs while no one was looking (Solzhenitsyn 12). Senka is a deaf-mute who lost his gearing during the war and like Shukhov had been taken prisoner by the Germans, only after he escaped three times he was sent to Buchenwald. Of course, his only 'reward' at the end of the war….....

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