The Relationship Between Hunger and the Zeks of Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
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Solzhenitsyn’s dynamic prison novella is the product of his time spent in a Stalinist labor camp, where he spent all his days cold and hungry. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is the vessel that Solzhenitsyn used to explore the various relationships between prisoners, or Zeks, and the omnipotent hunger that runs rampant throughout these labor camps. Solzhenitsyn’s prime mode to develop these relationships is through the development of characters and the plot.
Four major characters are used to demonstrate the ways hunger can transform a person: Fetiukov, Aloyshka, Tsezar, and the protagonist, Shukhov. Fetiukov is dehumanized by his constant, animalistic search for sustenance. Aloyshka views his aching belly as a test from his God so that he may strengthen his spiritual relationship. Tsezar uses his abundance of food to manipulate others in the camp. Shukhov drives strength and motivation from his hunger in order to work harder despite the freezing winds of the Siberian winter.
Fetiukov: The Jackal
In the exposition of the novel, Fetiukov is described by the speaker as having “the last place in his squad” (pg. 13). Obtaining the last place in a squad is to be the least respected and to possess the least dignity out of any other Zek in a squad. Fetiukov is viewed this way because he has lost his dignity and the respect to others by succumbing to uncivilized attempts to satisfy his hunger. For example, Fetiukov was known around the labor camp as “the sort who when he was looking after someone else’s bowl took the potatoes from it” (pg. 14). He was also known for “collecting cigarette butts (he even fished them out of the spittoons, he wasn’t fussy)” (pg. 41). Fetiukov’s constant petty search for food embitters both his fel...
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... an exploratory analysis of the possible relationships that form between various individuals and hunger when it is allowed to run rampant. The author explores the degrading nature hunger can have through the character of Fetiukov. Aloyshka represents how some individuals turn their hearts to the heavens in search of a benevolent God in times of adversity. Tsezar symbolizes the wealthy who manipulate the impoverished and malnourished. Lastly, Shukhov is the face of the people that find strength in their most desperate times.
Solzhenitsyn uses hunger as a greater metaphor for adversity. His characters not only symbolize the various reactions that human beings have to empty stomach, but to the way individuals either succumb or push through conflict and struggle.
Solzhenit︠s︡yn, Aleksandr Isaevich. One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich. Penguin, 1998.