One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is not a book about a superhuman. It is not a story about someone who is weaker and more desperate than everyone else. It is not a tale of greatness, nor is it about extraordinary faults. Instead, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn chose to center his story around Ivan denisovich Shukhov, an average, unnoticeable Russian prisoner.
Shukhov is a likeable and yet somewhat naïve fellow who is just like everybody else. In fact, what really makes this book remarkable is not Shukhov himself. What makes it special is that, even though at first glance the story may seem to be about Shukhov, it is actually a tale of events and common occurrences that could happen to anyone. The book is not just a detail of one day in the life of Ivan, it is a relatable story of what could happen to anyone shoved into a Russian prison camp. Ivan’s life in the book is shown to be nothing more than a picture of the thousands of lives that were lost or destroyed in the Stalinist camps. Ivan Denisovich Shukhov is not one character, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov is the picture of “anyman.” Using the depiction of the beliefs, hopes, and need to survive that would arise in a common prisoner Solzhenitsyn creates a story of the victory of humane principles over corruption.
Solzhenitsyn uses many techniques and skills in his book to portray an accurate representation of “anyman.” The first of these is Shukov’s meager means of endurance. In the book there are many prisoners and workers in the camp and they are all connected by one thing: the need for survival. Of course, there is no one way to survive and as the people in the camp live out their days in prison they must each figure out how they will endure.
First, the camp’s “free” workers must find their own way of making it from one day to the next. Most of them do so by cutting corners and stealing what they can. Whenever they have the chance the free workers will take anything possible from the prisoners. For instance, the prisoners must carry their bowls with them wherever they go because “they couldn’t leave them on the site overnight because they’d be pinched by the ‘free’ workers. (58)” But the more crafty workers try to win the favor of the prisoners by doing things like smuggling their letters out of the camp. However, the most important thing “free” workers must do to insure their safety is keep the prisoners in prison and make sure they have no means of escape, because the guard who loses a prisoner takes that prisoner’s place in camp.
Then there are the prisoners. The lucky ones like the hard-worker Kilgas or Ceaser the trustee live on the packages that people send them. These packages contain food and sometimes letters. The extra food they receive in the packages allows these special few to thrive in a place of such poor rations. Plus, they can use their packages to bribe “all the right people (37)” in order get what they want or need.
The next way a prisoner might survive is by moving up the...