One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich concentrates on one man, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, as he lives through one day in a Soviet gulag. The conditions of the camp are harsh, illustrating a world that has no tolerance for independence. Camp prisoners depend almost totally on each other's productivity and altruism, even for the most basic human needs. The dehumanising atmosphere of the gulag ironically forces prisoners to discover means to retain their individuality while conforming to the harsh rules, spoken and unspoken, of the camp. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit. Solzhenitsyn provides his readers with a seemingly hopeless situation, and then gives them characters who struggle fiercely to maintain their individuality.
Ivan had been in forced labour camps for eight years when the book starts. Shukhov was taken prisoner in a German camp. He escaped and was able to return to his country where he was sentenced for high treason. The officials believed he had surrendered to the Germans and had returned to spy on his country for them. He was originally sent to Ust-Izhma in which the zeks were normally kept. After a while he was sent to a special camp where they kept the political prisoners. These gulags were the repositories for Stalin's enemies, real or suspected. They housed many people taken in the great purges. It is estimated that the population in these camps was over 8.8 million from 1929-53.
The resilience of the human spirit is perhaps the most important theme of the novel. It demonstrates the possibility of success despite a cruel environment. Even though these people have been...
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...lves in this small way.
Solzhenitsyn's publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was a major turning point in Russian history. The fact that Krushchev allowed this type of material to be distributed is amazing in itself. The mention of gulags was certainly forbidden, especially implying that an innocent man was thrown into one of these camps. This novel certainly undermines the idea of equality that communism first expounded as it came to power. The party's control over Russia was in obvious decline if they let this novel be published. A party that once had made "even the sun in the heavens ... kow-tow to their decrees," was now losing authority.
Sakwa, R. Soviet Politics in Perspective. London: Routledge. 1998.
Solzhenitsyn, A. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Ralph Parker, trans. London: Penguin Books. 1963.
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