One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, work was shown as a daily obligation of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov when he was in the forced labor camp. Many of the prisoners felt that work “wasn’t half so bad. They gave you hot food and you had no time to start thinking. Real jail was when you were kept back from work” (7). In these “special” labor camps, there are two types of work: quality work and quick work (12). It depended on who the guards supervising were. Work took place everyday for the prisoners except for when the weather was unbearably cold at a glacial -41˚ (8). Another way to get out of work was if one was ill, and even then one must notify the medics the night before and be on the sick list (17). But even then, work was inevitable, as the doctor handed out jobs to the sick because “Work…was a first-rate medicine for any illness” (18). Work was not always done out of obligation, but some worked to gain favors from the higher-ups, like many squad leaders did, and to help oneself, like Shukhov did by making himself pockets. One thing that all prisoners and squads wanted to avoid while at the labor camp was to work at the “socialist Way of Life” settlement, where there was no escape for the bitter cold and a lot of work to be done (5). Shukhov’s squad, the 104th, avoided this, their planned fate due to their squad captain (23). When the men go out to work, they must stand out in the cold for roll, which is one of the worst parts of work, especially on a empty stomach (23). Work, a main concept in the book, has both its positives and its drawbacks in the book.
In Shokhov’s story, authority in the forced labor camp plays a major role in the lives of everyone from the prisoners to the guards. The guards keep a strict rule over the camp which keeps the prisoners in line. There were both strict and lenient authority figures in charge at the camp. They’re were some that would work hard to get a better job for both them and their squad while others are ruthless and enjoy their superiority over the prisoners. Shokhov, at the beginning of the story, gets punished for not getting out of bed on time despite him being awake, and he gets punished by a strict guard for something he shouldn’t of had been punished for (7). The Tartar that punishes Ivan shows his superiority by calling him by “S 854” (7). Some guards like those in the guardroom were strict to the prisoners but joked around with each other (11). Other guards like many squad leaders were understanding and helpful as they tried to improve the conditions for their squad. For example, Shokhov’s squad leader bribed the higher-ups for better working conditions with salted pork (23). One of the most strict authority figures in the first section is Lietenant Volkovoi, the security chief, who was known for carrying a whip in the past and who intimidated his superiors (26). He ordered a searching of the men even though the weather was inappropriate for such actions (26-28). When a man yelled out against these orders saying they were against Article Nine of the Criminal Code, he was punished with ten days in the guardhouse by Volkovoi (28). The role of authority is a serious concept in the book due to its constant presence in the prisoners’ lives.
Being at a forced labor camp, survival is a constant focus of everyone at the frigid camp. With unbelievably ruthless conditions, the prisoners have to survive on a small portion of bread, a dull vegetable soup and fish that is so boiled down that one must eat the whole fish including the head, tail and eyes to get a decent amount of food (10). Clothing was usually scarce around camp, and a prisoner could only possess one pair of footwear to survive the whole harsh winter (11). Along with little necessities, in order to survive one must learn to be submissive to the and to work hard when necessary, unless one wanted to face punishment (28). While prisoners have to look out for themselves, one prisoner said that “"Here, men, we live by the law of the taiga. But even here people manage to live. The ones that don't make it are those who lick other men's leftovers, those who count on the doctors to pull them through, and those who squeal on their buddies” (4). While Shukhov disagrees about snitches, he fully agreed with his fellow prisoners that one cannot use others to help himself survive and that one must be his own survival (4). Survival, especially in a forced labor camp, is a difficult task, but through Shukhov’s philosophy and will he made it through most of his sentence at the camp. 2
Work was a crucial part of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The prisoners had different assigned jobs and places everyday. Some of these tasks include getting water, moving cement and sand, and shoveling snow. Some of the work was necessary for survival; harsh, cold weather provided tasks like boarding windows for keeping warm. The temperatures kept prisoners working hard to stay warm. Ivan finds the work to be easy, as compared to other camps (56). Prisoners are fed well at breakfast in order to be able work a productive way and are given a smaller dinner. Life is not easy and the labor is tough. Work is structured, and slacking led to consequences.
Authority over the prisoners has a huge impact on their lives, and there are structured ranks for authority—guards, checkers, sergeants and lieutenants. Those in charge used their authority to punish others. Tiurin tells Ivan’s squad the labor that they are going to and the tasks that must be accomplished. His squad works on the power station. Later, Ivan boards windows to keep the room warm. Tiurin does a work report—which has a big impact on the squad because food is proportioned to the amount of labor.
Prison labor is closely tied with survival. Food rations were dependent of the amount of work done by prisoners. Work kept the prisoners warm— if you weren’t moving, you would freeze. Survival depended on labor. In addition to labor, prisoners stayed warm by burning wood. Windows were boarded up to keep warm. It was the responsibility of the prisoners to keep warm, nothing was done to help them. They stole the wood, an extreme measure considering squads were kept under strict control with harsh punishments, to stay alive. 3
Ivan is considered one of the best workers because he has a deep passion towards his work. He remains to finish the day's work on building the walls and before he leaves, looks it over to examine its quality. He takes great pride in a job well done. It is also his nature to make the most out of everything and not waste anything. This makes him persistent and energetic in everything he does. Ivan has accepted his condition in life and therefore, he is the skilled labor camp prisoner. As long as he is able to eat, sleep, and carry on, he is content with his situation, no matter how unfair. And he is not envious of the trusties, who have easy office jobs. Rather, he identifies with the old prisoner, U 81, who has been working hard labor for years, but has maintained a cool, reserved dignity. For Ivan Denisovich, this old man is the model prisoner.
The Soviet authorities have absolute power is the camp they are able to determine the true story, often overlooking the facts. In Captain Buinovsky's case, he is recognized as a spy and imprisoned because he gets a gift from a British admiral. It is useless to argue against the authorities. The Moldavian who is found sleeping in the repair shops is retained by the authorities and given time in the guardhouse. The official reason: attempting to escape.There was no use in arguing against it. For the prisoners, the authorities are always scheming to make life more miserable for them. They try to control and suppress every aspect of the prisoners' lives. For instance, Ivan finds out that there will be work again on Sunday, their usual day off. He is able to endure this oppression by claiming small physical, mental, and emotional victories throughout the day. During supper, he forgets about the negatives and focuses only on his food.
Survival only comes from the help of others. The members of the 104th work hard because they depend on one another to survive and get their assignments done. This is essential for a squad. The authorities do not care about the survival of the prisoners because their spaces can be easily filled. Therefore, each squad member must help fill each other's gaps. 6As Ivan drinks the thin soup, all his complaints and concerns disappear. His mind is focused on filling his stomach. Food is an essential element of survival and Ivan devotes most of his skills and ability to keeping his stomach well fed. While eating, he observes prisoner U 81. This old man has been imprisoned for many consecutive terms, yet has maintained a certain dignity, even in the way he eats. Ivan is impressed by his eagerness to survive. 5
Group Four is made up of:
Maria Hengeveld Peter Mikitsh