Present Provoking Past

Satisfactory Essays
Present Provoking Past

“Analyze a characters’ response to the past as a source of meaning in a work”

“ . . . the past, no matter what it was like, never becomes a matter of indifference to the present.”

In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn portrays one normal day in the life of Shukhov (Ivan Denisovich), a Russian peasant unfairly confined in one of Stalin’s forced labor camps for political prisoners. Throughout the novel, Solzhenitsyn depicts how Shukhov has adapted to his surroundings and has been able to survive with a dignity other prisoners have lost throughout their confinement. It is exactly the way Shukhov has been able to live and survive in prison, that reveals how he has responded to his past, even when all the author reveals to the reader is the characters’ immediate present.

Shukhov responded to his past by clinging to aspects of his “previous life” which allowed him to maintain his humanity, and thus survive, and by letting go of those which didn’t. Many critics argue that imprisonment robs individuals of their humanity for, in order to survive, they grow accustomed to their harsh life and loose basic human responses. Solzhenitsyn however, proves through Shukhov, that even within confinement, where prisoners are robbed of every kind of possession, freedom and humanity can still exist within.

What aspects then, does Shukhov hold on to, and which ones does he let go of in order to survive? First of all, it is very important to clarify that survival in the novel is very relative. Surviving for some of the prisoners is merely enduring life, no matter the cost, such as for Fetiukov who stoops even to collecting other prisoners’ left over cigarette buds, even though he puts himself in danger of catching a syphilitic lip. For Shukhov however, surviving goes far beyond making it alive. Shukhov shares Kuziomin’s same belief that those who lick other men's leftovers, those who count on the doctors to pull them through, and those who squeal on their buddies don’t make it, for it’s at the expense of not just other people’s blood, but at the expense of loss of self-value, of self-worth.

Thus, for Shukhov, surviving is going on living, while maintaining his freedom and humanity, even in an environment which has total control over him. As consequence, the most important thing that Shukhov holds on to is his intrinsic code of values and morals.
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