Book Reports / One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich Book Report

One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich Book Report

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Autor:  jbhdancer  08 June 2011
Tags:  Alexander Solzhenitsyn,  One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,  International Studies,  Russia
Words: 2388   |   Pages: 10
Views: 646

The novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, is a portrayal of one seemingly normal day in a Stalinist labor camp. The book is set in Siberia in the winter of 1951. Stalin is the current leader of the Soviet Union, which adds to the effect of the harsh prison conditions. Many conflicts are apparent with the main character, Ivan Denisovich, throughout the novel. Solzhenitsyn focuses on three major themes of these camps; individuality, the importance of religion and beliefs, as well as the reality of Russian labor camps.

Firstly, one major theme that the author focuses upon is the search for one's individuality in soviet labor camps. The point of these Stalinist labor camps is to dehumanize its captives of all rights and human dignity. Ivan's name is just one aspect that is demoralized throughout the novel. Instead of being called Ivan, or as the narrator refers to him, Shukov, the officers refer to Ivan as Shcha-854. In Russian culture, it is respectful to call someone by their first name and patronymic name, yet, Ivan is unfortunately referred to by a set of letters and numbers. However, Ivan does not lose faith in his humanity. Consequently, the prisoners are treated by the Soviet Union as objects of labor as opposed to human beings. This demonstrates the lack of respect and inhumanity Ivan endures while he is in a state of constant dehumanization.

In addition, gaining individuality in such labor camps is difficult, however, many of the inmates hold onto beliefs, ideals, and traditions that keep their hopes high. Ivan, for example, always takes off his hat before he eats his inadequate meals. The reader, unfortunately, is not told where this standard comes from, yet, it is an important aspect of Ivan's search for dignity. Accordingly, Ivan keeps a spoon in his shoe for his meals as well. This suggests Ivan's search for humanity, individuality, and freedom in a dismal environment. It is unsure whether anyone else in the camp has a utensil like Ivan's, yet it is assumed that he is one of the few with such a rare tool. Although the spoon cannot be used as a weapon or escape tool, Ivan treasures the small individuality it brings. With the spoon, Ivan is able to eat humanely and not like a savage beast. Although Ivan is starving at most meals, he saves his dignity by slowly eating and savoring each bite. He watches the other prisoners who gobble their food quickly, which reminds Ivan of the dignity that is lost in his fellow inmates.

Secondly, belief and faith are demonstrated as an important aspect of keeping hope throughout the tough days at the labor camps. One character in the novel that is repeatedly focused upon is Aloyshka, the devout Baptist in the novel. Ivan is not portrayed as a religious person, yet he discovers his own beliefs towards the end of the novel. In the first section, the reader even sees Ivan's interpretations of a new Ukrainian inmate when he crosses his heart before eating. Ivan believes, this new inmate will quickly lose this religious habit and the hope that religion will bring the prisoner. Stuck in a monotonous rhythm, the prisoner's lives consist of eating, sleeping, working, and avoiding trouble. Often lost in the shuffle, religion or any beliefs for that matter, become distant. Aloyshka is represented as the nice guy in the novel who is always doing favors for others without expecting anything in return. Likewise, Aloyshka also engages in religious conversations as if it is the only thing on his mind. Aloyshka is always in a peaceful state, which suggests that religion is the main support that gets him through these hard times.

The bread in which the prisoners eat is also a symbol of religion in the prison camps. Many prisoners see the bread as a physical way to maintain survival. However, a deeper meaning is suggested throughout the novel. The bread is shown to fill a spiritual hunger as well as a physical hunger especially for Alyoshka. Even towards the end of the book, Ivan becomes a religious figure as well. Ivan hides some extra biscuits in his mattress to fill his hunger void. When Ivan thinks of all the times Alyoshka has been selfless and helped others in the camp, he decides to give Alyoshka a piece of his biscuit. This somewhat represents the Communion given during Catholic church services. The bread is suggested to be the daily bread mentioned throughout the Bible. This act by Ivan, demonstrates to the reader, that life in prison camps can be more than just trying to survive. There is a sense of camaraderie between prison mates that is, until this point, ignored. Yes, each inmate is responsible for his or her own work, yet it affects Gang 104's progress and punishment earned as well. However, the reader is not shown any friendships that have developed at HQ up until the ending of the novel. This theme is a rather important subject, yet Solzhenitsyn, may have avoided talking about religion in order to show the harsh reality of the prison camps.

Lastly, the most important theme is the unjust punishment and harsh reality of the gulag prison camps. Taking place in Siberia, nature, authority, and inhumane treatment all play a role in the negativity of the story. Inmates are not allowed to wear any clothing other than the prison uniform provided for them. It is a thin garment that fails to protect prisoners from the Siberian winter weather. Inmates are forced to work and stay alert in forty below conditions. As if trying not to stay alive while wearing their inadequate clothes is hard enough, the prisoners are also forced to take part in naked body searches as well. The prisoners are ordered by prison authority to strip down to their bare skin a few times a day in order to make sure the inmates are not carrying unapproved items. Despite the freezing cold, the prisoners must suffer to this humiliating task every day. Often, these harsh weather conditions lead to many inmates becoming ill. Ivan, for instance, wakes up at the beginning of the novel feeling feverish with severe aches. Although Ivan cannot control the way he feels, he is forced to perform his difficult daily work. It is inevitable that the inmates will become ill, and without proper treatment of sickness, some men might even find themselves on the brink of death. When Ivan reports to the camps sick bay, he soon finds out his temperature is not high enough to be exempt from work for the day. Ivan cannot control the sickness he is feeling and he cannot tend to his illness while at the camp. Any chances of getting better are slim to none. This human characteristic is one that no inmate can control; however, each prisoner must continue his harsh work despite the inevitable illness.

Along with the harsh punishment each inmate must endure, the reasons for their imprisonment is harsh in of itself. Ivan is portrayed as a decent man who has no traits of an endangering criminal, yet, we discover his crime of treason is what leads to his imprisonment. Towards the middle of the novel, the reader finally discovers why many of the inmates have become prisoners. Tyurin, the foreman of Gang 104, describes that the only reason he is summoned to HQ was because he comes from a rich peasant family. In 1951, Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, wanted to destroy the upper class in order to make Russia a more equal country. Many were punished for their class standing in Russia even though it was unfair and unjust. Tyurin even tells the men he had to give away his little brother to a Russian gang in order to protect him from the life that Tyurin now leads. Another inmate, Gopchik, is forced to be prisoner at the camp simply because he brought milk to freedom fighters hiding in the woods. Although this thoughtful act may not seem criminal to the reader, under harsh Soviet rule, such outrage was intolerable. The freedom fighters are Ukrainian nationalist rebel who are in fear of being caught. Gopchik is only a sixteen year old boy, so this harsh punishment does not seem fit for the act, or crime as the Soviet government saw it, that Gopchik committed. As the reader learns about other inmates brutal punishment, we also learn of Ivan's horrible crime. Ivan is charged with treason for opposing Russian armies. We find out that in fact, Ivan was captured by German soldiers when he was fighting for the Russian army. Although Ivan escaped, Russian authority did not believe his story and deemed him a spy. The Soviet authority wanted to kill Ivan unless he confessed that he indeed was a spy. In fear of is life, Ivan confessed. Ivan, a husband, father, and loyal Russian, found it best to serve a small punishment and return to his family rather than to be killed and desert them in these desperate times. Ivan is sentenced to ten years in Soviet prisons, which is a long amount of time for a crime he did not commit. Likewise, many of the men in the camp are unjustly punished for small crimes or crimes they did not commit. Since many inmates are there for no good reason, this demonstrates the unfair times of the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin's totalitarian reign.

The novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, related greatly to that of learning material taught throughout class IS 260. Upon first reading the novel, I immediately recognized the setting in which the novel takes place. In Siberia, it is very cold and unwelcoming to Russian citizens. This affects Russian and Soviet history because people were unable to inhabit this land due to the cold. Frozen ground made it hard for farming and agriculture in Siberia. This biter aspect of nature is portrayed vividly throughout Solzhenitsyn's novel. The freezing cold and blistering temperatures make the prison more torturous, which might be why Soviet government placed it here.

Apart from the environmental relations to material taught in IS 260, the novel also helped with the understanding of leader Joseph Stalin. Stalin put the first full-blown totalitarian system into effect. Stalin planned to have total control of the people of the Soviet Union. This totalitarian system is depicted with great imagery throughout the novel. We learned about the Great Purges that Stalin introduced is demonstrated at its best. Stalin opposed of anyone who was considered potentially harmful to Stalin's power. Stalin also wanted to equalize the economy, which meant purging anyone who might threaten Stalin's power. Tyurin for example is one of the many Soviet citizens who was punished for being part of a rich family. His punishment for his so-called crime is ridiculous, yet, this is the true nature of Joseph Stalin's rule. In IS 260, I also learned that both the innocent and guilty were sent to prisons. Ivan is obviously innocent of his crime of treason, yet many, as Ivan shows, are forced to plead guilty to avoid even harsher punishment. The people of Russia were manipulated, interrogated, psychologically pressured to confess to crimes they did not commit or had any part in. This reign of terror in the Soviet public was not demonstrated in the novel, however, the reader does get a chance to see how small crimes are considered rightful of severe punishment.

In our class, IS 260, I learned of the labor camps, or Gulag, in which many Soviet wrong doers are sent. I gained a further understanding of the harsh Gulag's in the Soviet Union. Although, the novel only reflects one day in a Stalinist prison, the reader understands the full negative atmosphere these camps inhabit. With unimaginably freezing temperatures, minimal clothing, and continuous hard labor, these camps left people with only one goal; to survive. The reader witnesses brutality among the prisoners in order to stay alive. This was the point of Stalin's labor camps, and his wish of destroying humanity as the reader sees, is coming true. Although, Ivan discovers how loss of faith, friendship, and humanity makes life harder in the prison camps, there is also a sense of hope portrayed at the end of the novel. This is a feature of the Soviet Union I had failed to acknowledge. I believed, many in the Soviet Union felt captive and lost hope with time. I imagined a hostile environment where inmates would rather die than continue their laborious work. Yet, Solzhenitsyn demonstrates that although the camps were treacherous, the inmates do not talk about death. The reader does not witness many complaints from the prisoners about their life in HQ. Perhaps, there is reassurance about being in prison instead of trying to survive outside the labor camps protective walls.

In conclusion, I would recommend this book to every student in my IS 120 class. The book is written in simple vocabulary, which makes it easy to read for all ranges of students in the IS 260 class. Although Stalin was only focused upon in a short time of our class, from the novel, I have gained a further understanding of Stalinist rule in Russia. Other students may as well benefit from this extended learning of Soviet leaders. Not only have I learned more about Stalin as a leader, likewise, I also gained a larger perspective of Russian people at this time. I also appreciated Solzhenitsyn writing form in which he enters Ivan's mind to give us a further understanding of what Ivan is thinking. Solzhenitsyn uses a narrative technique known as free indirect discourse. The reader begins to learn what is important because the narrator will go into depth about the manners with more meaning. This helps the reader gain a better understanding of what Shukov is thinking in certain situations. As a prison journal, this book was not only factual, but it added a personal feel to the pages as well. The reader is not just reading a documentary. They are actually going through a whole day with Ivan. Overall, this book was insightful, helpful, and easy to understand which would benefit any student wanting to learn about Russian history.



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