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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: Deeper into the Character
When Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962, he crossed political barriers in his explanation of the Siberian prison camp. Through his character Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn shows us a normal day in the camp. The book has no chapters, so it is like the reader is spending the day with Ivan. Through this day, he tells of the people, the life conditions, what things are to be done and what things are not to be done. One Day. . . takes us from the wake up call to lights out, with only meals and work between. Nevertheless, because this is only one day, it is hard to really know and understand the characters. Yet, Solzhenitsyn uses flashbacks to show the different sides to his character Ivan Denisovich.
Solzhenitsyn uses quite a few major flash backs to show the history of the characters; yet, there were two distinct examples he uses to show Ivans feelings. These two flashbacks help us to understand his humanity and optimism.
When he is at his first work camp, he receives many letters and packages from his wife. These letters talk of things happening at home while the packages contain food and tobacco. Yet, every time he receives a package, only a small portion gets to Ivan after all of the appropriate people take their cuts. Therefore, despite his need for food, he writes to his wife and tells her to stop sending the packages. He wants her to save the bread for their children.
Even though he asks her to not send any more packages, he still longs for someone to run up to him and say "Shukhov (Ivan) what are you waiting for? You've got a package!" (P.160). No one ever does, nor does he expect them to. As much as he wants the package, he doesn't want his family to suffer on his account.
This situation shows the reader the caring and compassionate side of Ivan. It shows the reader of his capacity to give up his own food on behalf of his family. Ivan is a very loving father, yet, without this example, the reader would lose an important aspect of his character. Only through this flashback are we able to see this side of him.
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In addition, this situation shows his humanity. Even though he does not want to take a package from his children, he still wants the package. This is how, as humans, we feel. We would still long for the package, even though we know it's not coming.
At the end of the book, Ivan is laying in bed thanking God for the good day he had. Yes, the day he had at the prison camp. The day where he got up in 17 below weather, marched for miles, worked all day, and received almost no food. This day is like most of his others, but he is still thankful.
"The boss had gotten them good rates for their work. He'd felt good making that wall. They hadn't found that piece of steel in the frisk. Caesar had paid him off that evening. He'd bought some tobacco. And he'd gotten over his sickness. Nothing had spoiled the day and it had been almost happy" (P. 210).
These simple things makes the day in the horrible, freezing prison camp seem "almost happy."
This goes to show one of the greatest aspects of Ivan, his optimism. This ability to see the good in every situation was probably one of the main reasons Ivan was able to live so long in the camp.
His loving, self-sacrificing personality and ability to see the good in everything is made evident through the author's use of flashbacks. Solzhenitsyn allows us to see deeper into a character than we could have on any other One Day.
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1963.