Realism Of One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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The book “One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich” by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn tells the story of a prisoner, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, who lives in a Stalinist labour camp, Camp HQ. The novel describes a day in his life and the harsh conditions he has to live and work in. The labour camp’s motive was to breakdown the prisoners solidarity and try to pit the prisoners up against each other to survive. Their efforts were not meant as the actuality of it was the prisoners bonded and started protecting each other more. One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich proves that despite the goal of dehumanizing the prisoners, the endurance and integrity that he has, makes him able to live on and fight everyday. We can see how the environment he lives in strips him of his identity and the ways in which he is able to look past it all and preserve his individuality with dignity.

To dehumanize a person means to view a person as less that human not show them any respect. This is shown from the very start of the book, right from when Shukhov begins his day. Just like everyday, his days are the same routine with no changes sight. As food is valuable, complaining is not ideal because their food can be taken away from them. They are also forced to fight for their food as “people were shoving at him from the other side” (p. 86) or die of starvation. This takes away from the prisoners dignity by having to essentially beg for food, with food only being 200 grams of bread they receive. Their living conditions are also unbearable. They sleep in mattresses that are not comfortable and do not have sheets. This is meant to keep their lives miserable and to remind them that they are no longer people in society.

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The novel portrays the ways that competition and conflict get in between prisoners. The prisoners who have at the top of the hierarchy, punish those who are lesser than them, usually the prisoners who work outside as opposed to inside. The gulag wants to strip the prisoners of their identity and pride by replacing they names with letters and numbers. Shukhov becomes known as “Shcha-854.” By being labeled in this way, they are being cared for as if they were animals on a farm. In addition to them not being called by their name, they are also stripped of their privacy and prisoners were searched in below -40 degree weather everyday when they entered and exited the camp. Items that guards found dangerous or they just wanted to take would be confiscated, even just a loaf of bread. This supported the idea that prisoners should always fear the guards and consequences would follow if disobeyed.

Though the environment of the camp, he is still able to conserve his identity. The important of faith offers Shukhov strength when he faces adversity and hardships. When he is talking to Alyoshka about faith, he says that faith can serve as means of survival when surviving in the gulag. Another way that he is able to keep strong is by following his daily routines. When it is time to eat, he follows his routine of taking off his cap, using his own spoon and eating slowly so that he can enjoy his food more. It is little gestures like those which help Shukhov hold on to his past life and helps him remember that he is his own person and not a nobody. It is his own way of rebelling against the system. Even with the hierarchy within the prisoners, Shukhov has somehow found people he can trust and has bonded with. His bunkmate, Alyoshka, being one of them. An example of him trusting Alyoshka is when he sees Shukhov hiding something in his bed, which is not allowed, and not being concerned that Alyoshka would rat him out. Another way Shukhov is able to keep his identity and known by other is through his reputation. He will do favours for other prisoners because he knows they will owe him in return as well, showing that he is an honourable person.

In conclusion, the tactics the guards and the gulag as a whole used to try and dehumanize the prisoners did not work as it made the prisoners more determined to preserve their individualities and fight on. Shukhov’s silent rebellion helped him not feel ‘owned’ by the state and not just another number. He refuses to submit to the system and fights their attempts to deteriorate the human spirit. 


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