Solzhenitsyn’s dynamic prison novella is the product of his time spent in a Stalinist labor camp, where he spent all his days cold and hungry. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is the vessel that Solzhenitsyn used to explore the various relationships between prisoners, or Zeks, and the omnipotent hunger that runs rampant throughout these labor camps. Solzhenitsyn’s prime mode to develop these relationships is through the development of characters and the plot.
Four major characters are used to demonstrate the ways hunger can transform a person: Fetiukov, Aloyshka, Tsezar, and the protagonist, Shukhov. Fetiukov is dehumanized by his constant, animalistic search for sustenance. Aloyshka views his aching belly as a test from his God so that he may strengthen his spiritual relationship. Tsezar uses his abundance of food to manipulate others in the camp. Shukhov drives strength and motivation from his hunger in order to work harder despite the freezing winds of the Siberian winter.
Fetiukov: The Jackal
In the exposition of the novel, Fetiukov is described by the speaker as having “the last place in his squad” (pg. 13). Obtaining the last place in a squad is to be the least respected and to possess the least dignity out of any other Zek in a squad. Fetiukov is viewed this way because he has lost his dignity and the respect to others by succumbing to uncivilized attempts to satisfy his hunger. For example, Fetiukov was known around the labor camp as “the sort who when he was looking after someone else’s bowl took the potatoes from it” (pg. 14). He was also known for “collecting cigarette butts (he even fished them out of the spittoons, he wasn’t fussy)” (pg. 41). Fetiukov’s constant petty search for food embitters both his fellow Zeks and the cruel guards of the camp. For example, when Fetiukov is severely beaten by the prison guards for licking the leftover food out of other Zek’s bowls, the other prisoners have no sympathy for his injuries, but because “he wouldn’t live to see the end of his stretch” (pg. 125).
Fetiukov’s relationship with food is unhealthy and counterproductive to labor camp survival. Fetiukov has been corrupted by his desire to satisfy his hunger and in turn has been reduced to the lowest and most animalistic member of his squad. Solzhenitsyn emphasizes this through other characters views of him and the diction he uses to describe Fetiukov. The other characters lack empathy for his misfortunes and have given up on trying to help him correct his attitude. Additionally, Solzhenitsyn always uses words that refer to beastly animals, such as the jackal, when mentioning Fetiukov. Solzhenitsyn uses the character of Fetuikov to explore how hunger drives a man into an animal.
Aloyshka the Baptist
Aloyshka is by far the most spiritual man in Solzhenitsyn’s One Day. The author emphasizes this through his introduction of this character, in which “Alyoshka, the well-washed Baptist… was reading the notebook into which he had copied...