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Character Situations in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn creates many characters that are memorable to the reader because of both their personal situations and their responses to those situations. Through characters such as Ivan Shukhov Denisovich, Fetyukov, Aloyska the Baptist, and the two Estonians, Solzhenitsyn explores the varied reactions of the characters and the effect of these reactions on other characters' perceptions of them.
Ivan Shukhov Denisovich is the protagonist of this novel. He is the character about whom the reader is told the most. The reader is told that Denisovich has had several serious health problems, has been imprisoned for nearly ten years, and is a skilled laborer. Through conversations and actions it is learned that Shukhov, though not the highest ranking member of the prisoner group, is respected and well liked. His fellow prisoners care enough about him to watch his food for him when he is not present promptly at mealtimes and to give him the occasional drag off a cigarette. Much of this respect has to do with his attitude. Shukhov is willing to do many things for his fellow prisoners and does more than his share of the work. "He faces his situation positively," and tries to make use of any opportunity to assist the group as a whole (Depoli 1).
The two Estonians are similar to Shukhov in many ways. They try to look at their situation in a positive light. They are brotherly and share everything to help make life a little bit better for each other. They cling together "as though neither would have air enough to breathe without the other," and they are respected for this devotion to each other (Solzhenitsyn 44). At one point Shukhov states that he has met many Estonians, including these two, "and never run across a bad one" (44). Because the two men try to work together, they are more highly thought of among the work gang than is someone like Fetyukov.
Fetyukov is the scavenger. Seeking only to better his own situation, he is shunned by the other members of the group. He is referred to as a scoundrel and stoops to using odds and ends tossed away by other prisoners because "he got no help from anywhere" (45). Fetyukov is looked down upon by almost everyone in the group because of his selfishness and unwillingness to work.
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Aloyska the Baptist is a fourth distinctive character in this novel. The devout Aloyska continues to hide his Bible in the wall and to pray, even though both are forbidden. The statement, "Aloyska was a champion at one thing," gives an idea of how he is seen by the rest of the work gang, but at the same time he is respected because he does his share to make life better for the whole group (23). Unlike Fetyukov, who is considered by many to be "one of the lowliest members of the gang" because of his desire to help only himself, Aloyska is somewhat respected for his willingness to do kind things for others, even though he is not the most esteemed member of the group (14).
Solzhenitsyn creates many interesting and unique characters in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Through these characters and their situations, he demonstrates to the reader that sometimes working for the good of the group achieves a more positive result than working for the good of oneself.