Man's Tragedy in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch

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Man's Tragedy in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch

Solzhenitsyn's turning to history has extremely important consequences

for his total literary heritage. As he himself has said, "Literature that is

not the very breath of contemporary society does not deserve the name of

literature." To be true literature, "the pain and fears of society must be

held before it, society must be warned against the moral and social dangers

which threaten it."

History to Solzhenitsyn, as to Leo Tolstoy, is the theater and the arena

in which the abominations as well as the glories of human behavior are

revealed at their most powerful and on the grandest scale. This is not to say

that Solzhenitsyn actually "writes history," meaning by that a formal history

text. Rather, his novel August 1914 is a vehicle for the telling the larger

story of the human condition. As in One Day, characters are minutely

inspected in order best to understand the historical environment in which they

participate as well as being affected by it. In other words, history at its

present juncture provides Solzhenitsyn with concrete, "living" referents or

the actual background against which the moral fiber of realistically depicted

characters are not only revealed but above all tested and tempered. As in the

later work, Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn's historical novel about

Leninist-Stalinist terror and the labor-camp system, so in August 1914 events

do not simply "happen," as though they were products of the action of Fate. It

is precisely over the issue of Why Events Happen that Solzhenitsyn parts

company with the great Russian writer, Tolstoy, who himself used history (War

and Peace) as a mea...

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...," not by means of dogmatic insistence upon "historical

law" and "ultimate truth."

So, for Solzhenitsyn, man's Tragedy does not consist in his being ground

under by an historical juggernaut, a dumb force guided by inexorable

historical laws, impersonal forces, economic determinism, and so forth.

Instead, man makes his own history. Ideologies, religions, policies do help

shape the lines along which history will be made, but above all for

Solzhenitsyn, it is men who make history. It is they who can be blamed. So can

the makers of ideologies be blamed for the postulates they develop and the

consequences which result from them. "Who is to blame?" the author of Gulag

Archipelago asks in the chapter entitled, "The Law Becomes a Man." He answers,

with bitter irony: "Well, of course, it obviously could never be the Over-All

Leadership!"

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