One day of Ivan Denisovich
The peasant and front-line soldier Ivan Denisovich Shukhov turned out to be a “state criminal”, a “spy” and got into one of Stalin’s camps, like millions of Soviet people, guilty without conviction at the time of the “personality cult” and mass repressions. He left home on June 23, 1941, on the second day after the outbreak of the war with Hitlerite Germany, “… in February of 1942 on the Northwestern Front they surrounded their entire army, and they did not eat anything from the planes, and they did not even have those planes, they reached the point where they hoofed hoofed horses, soaked that cornea in water and ate, “that is, the command of the Red Army threw its soldiers
The second part of Shukhov’s memories and reflections during his long camp work and a short rest in the barracks refers to his life in the village. From the fact that relatives do not send him products (he himself refused to send his parcels to his wife), we understand that in the village they are starving no less than in the camp. Wife wrote to Shukhov that the collective farmers make a living by painting fake carpets and selling them to the townspeople.
If you leave aside retrospection and random information about life outside the barbed wire, the action of the whole story takes exactly one day. In this short time period, we are facing a panorama of camp life, a sort of “encyclopedia” of life in the camp.
First, a whole gallery of social types and at the same time of bright human characters: Caesar is a metropolitan intellectual, a former filmmaker who, incidentally, and in the camp compares with Shukhov’s “lordly” life: receives food parcels, enjoys certain benefits during the works ; Kavtorang – repressed marine officer; an old convict who had been in the prisons of the tsars and katorgah (the old revolutionary guard, who did not find a common language with the policy of Bolshevism in the 1930s); Estonians and Latvians – the so-called “bourgeois nationalists”; Baptist Alyosha – expresses the thoughts and ways of life of a very diverse religious Russia; Gopchik is a sixteen-year-old teenager, whose fate shows that repression did not distinguish between children and adults. And Shukhov himself is a typical representative of the Russian peasantry with its special business acumen and an organic way of thinking. Against the backdrop of these victims of repression, a figure of a different type emerges: the head of the Volkov regime, regulating the life of prisoners and, as it were, symbolizing a merciless communist regime.
Secondly, the most detailed picture of camp life and work. Life in the camp remains a life with its visible and invisible passions and subtle emotions. Basically, they are related to the problem of obtaining food. They feed a little and badly a terrible balance with frozen cabbage and small fish. A kind of art of living in the camp is to get yourself an extra ration of bread and an extra bowl of lee, and if you’re lucky – a little tobacco. For this, we have to go to the greatest tricks, currying ourselves before the “authorities” like Caesar and others. At the same time it is important to preserve one’s human dignity, not become a “beggar”, like Fetukov (however, there are few such in the camp). This is important not from high even considerations, but on necessity: the “downed” person loses his will to live and necessarily perishes. In this way, the question of maintaining the image of the human becomes a matter of survival. The second vital question is the attitude towards forced labor. Prisoners, especially in winter, work in the hunt, almost competing with each other and the team with the brigade, in order not to freeze and to “cut” the time from lodging to lodging, from feeding to feeding. On this incentive and built a terrible system of collective labor. But it nevertheless does not completely exterminate in people the natural joy of physical labor: the scene of building a house by the brigade where Shukhov works is one of the most inspired in the story. The ability to “work properly” (without overstraining, but not shirking), as well as the ability to get yourself extra rations, is also a high art. Like the ability to hide from the eyes of the guards a tucked piece of saw, from which the camp craftsmen make miniature knives for exchange for food, tobacco, warm clothes… In relation to the guards who constantly conduct “shmona”, Shukhov and the rest of the Prisoners are in the position of wild animals: they must be smarter and more clever than armed people with the right to punish them and even shoot them for their retreat from the camp regime. To deceive the guards and the camp authorities is also a high art.
That day, about which the hero narrates, was, in his own opinion, successful – “they did not put him in a punishment cell, they did not drive him out to Sotsgorodok, at lunch he muffled the porridge, the foreman closed his interest well, Shukhov laid the wall cheerfully, with a hacksaw on the shmona not I got caught in the evening at Caesar’s and bought tobacco, and I did not get sick, I could not help it. There was a day that was not overshadowed, almost happy. There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days in his term from the call to the bell, because of leap years – three days extra bid up… ”
At the end of the story gives a brief glossary of bl tnyh expressions and specific camp of terms and abbreviations that appear in the text.