Strength of the Human Spirit Revealed in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Life can be incredibly hard at times; nearly everyone encounters a period of time when circumstances become unbearably difficult. Imagine being assigned to ten years of unceasing and tremendous hardships, as is the plight of the protagonist in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. This book describes in detail only one day of Ivan's ten-year sentence in a Russian work camp in the 1950's. During this day, which is like most others, he is starved, nearly frozen, overworked, and punished unjustly; however, as the day unfolds, it is obvious that Ivan will never give up and never give in. The character of Ivan Denisovich is a symbol of the human spirit and its never-ending will to survive, even through the harshest of conditions.
Ivan's day begins with reveille at 5:00, "as always" (significant because this day is just like every other day has been for the past eight years). On most mornings after reveille, he jumps out of bed to have a little time to himself, but today he is not feeling well and rises slowly. Usually, there are many things he could do during this time before the morning roll call: sweep up, carry something for someone, fetch the boots of the gang boss, gather and stack bowls at the mess hall, any number of little jobs.
On the surface, Ivan's actions look noble and kindhearted, as if the well being of others is his main concern. But like most kind gestures, there is an entirely different motive; for Ivan, it is just "another way of getting food"(2). He, like most people in a difficult situation, performs favors and tasks, not out of the goodness of his heart, but only out of his desire to survive. His seemingly selfish actions only mirror those of the average human spirit in a struggle for survival.
As Ivan dresses, he remembers with disgust that his work gang may be assigned to a new job, building a "Socialist Community Development" in the middle of a cold field covered in icy snow. A fellow prisoner claims, "It's at least twenty below" (6) outside and Ivan knows that the only way he and his gang will keep warm out on the field will be to work hard and fast, which will be difficult given the conditions and limited food rations. Ivan and his gang know that the men in the other gangs are just as weak as they are; no other gang receives any more food rations, or more clothing than they do. Regardless, the gang boss plans to "palm the job off on some other gang" (4).
In a struggle for survival, nearly all human beings will gladly pawn their pain and hardships off onto other, struggling human beings. Therefore, Ivan and his gang act only as any other humans would act in such a situation. The symbolism is apparent when it is understood that humans, even those who are not in such extreme positions of survival as a Russian work camp, act in this manner. Ivan and his gang, in their time...