Notes on Characters from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Major Characters

Ivan Denisovich Shukhov: The main character of the story, Ivan Denisovich is in the eighth year of a ten-year prison term. Imprisoned unjustly during WWII for treason, he has learned over the years not to be bitter, but live every day for itself. He is the consummate prisoner, with the know-how and optimistic attitude to get through the tortuous days. The story follows one day of his life in a Siberian labor camp, from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed.

Fetiukov: A former office worker of some rank (overseer), he is considered the lowest rank in the 104th hierarchy. No one in his squad respects Fetiukov because he is one to 'lick others' leftovers. He scrounges for anything he can get, not concerned about maintaining any degree of dignity and self-control. In the mess hall, Fetiukov often gets beaten up during fights over leftovers.

Pavlo: The deputy squad leader under Tiurin, Pavlo is a young West Ukrainian with good leadership skills. He serves his squad leader well. Robust and swarthy, camp life has not yet tired him out. He is a former forest sniper.

Alyosha the Baptist: Ivan Denisovich's top bunk neighbor, Alyosha is deeply religious and spends most of his time praying and reading the bible he has kept hidden in a chink in the wall. Alyosha is content with prison life because it gives him time to think about God and about his soul. Ivan Denisovich respects Alyosha because he works hard, serves everyone, and does not engage in the dubious survival tactics of the other prisoners. Before the prisoners go to sleep, Alyosha shares his faith with Ivan Denisovich.

Tiurin (Andrei Prokofievich): The squad leader of Ivan Denisovich's 104th division. As a nineteen-year veteran of the prisons, Tiurin is an adept and respected leader who understands how to manipulate the prison system. Having known Ivan Denisovich since their days at Ust-Izhma, Tiurin personally picks him to join his squad when they transfer to their current camp. Tiurin was arrested for being a son of a kulak.

Tsezar Markovich: A member of the 104th, Tsezar is a young Muscovite filmmaker of mixed nationalities (Greek, Jew, Gypsy, etc.). He is considered well-off because he receives two packages a month. Unlike most of the other members of the 104th, Tsezar works in an office, a position acquired most likely through bribes. Ivan Denisovich believes that Tsezar is an impractical intellectual who can survive only as long as he receives his packages.

Lieutenant Volkvoi: The security chief of the camp, he is feared by both the prisoners and the guards. Befitting his name--Volk is Russian for wolf--he looks like a wolf and only recently stopped carrying around a whip that he used to lash at the prisoners. Lieutenant Volkvoi gives Captain Buinovsky ten days in the guardhouse for his vocal protests.

(Captain) Buinovsky : Ivan Denisovich's bottom bunk neighbor (prisoner S 311), he is a former naval captain who acts as though he is still a captain. Despite being imprisoned unfairly, he remains patriotic to the Communist authorities and genuinely believes in the Soviet regime. He is a relative newcomer to the camp. During the morning inspection, Buinovsky gets ten days in the guardhouse for speaking out against Lieutenant Volkvoi. Ivan Denisovich feels sorry for the captain because with his brash attitude, he will not survive the camp for long.

Senka Klevshin: A quiet, loyal member of the 104th, little is known about his background except that he has escaped from prisons three times and has been in the German concentration camp, Buchenwald. Ivan Denisovich feels sorry for Senka because he is deaf, but also considers him the smartest of all the prisoners because he understands everything even without words.

Kilgas: A member of the 104th, he and Ivan Denisovich are the top two workers in the squad and are often paired together. They 'steal' prefabs to insulate the machine room and they work together as masons. Kilgas has a reputation for being a joker. He is a ruddy fellow who eats well because he receives two packages a month. Although his name is Johann, Ivan Denisovich calls him Vanya.

Gopchik: The youngest member of the 104th, Gopchik is a young Ukrainian lad whom Ivan Denisovich takes a fatherly interest in. Imprisoned for taking food to a traitorous Soviet general during the war, Gopchik fawns on the members of the 104th. Ivan Denisovich notes that Gopchik has already learned cunning because he eats his packages by himself at night. He also believes that Gopchik has the abilities to get along well in the camp.

(prisoner) U 81: A tall, old man of the 64th division--his squad is sent to the 'Socialist Way of Life settlement' instead of the 104th. Knowing that the old man has come back from a cold, hard day of work, Ivan Denisovich is impressed to see that he sits upright at the mess hall while all the other, younger prisoners are hunched over. This old man has been in prison for many consecutive terms, but somehow has been able to maintain a cool, reserved dignity. For Ivan Denisovich, the old man is a model prisoner.

Minor Characters

Kuziomin: A hard-bitten prisoner who has been in the camps for twelve years, he is Ivan Denisovich's first squad leader. Kuziomin preaches to his squad members an ethics of survival that includes not licking other's leftovers. Ivan Denisovich tries to live by Kuziomin's words.

squealers: Prisoners who resort to 'squealing' on fellow prisoners to the authorities in exchange for protection and better treatment. According to Kuziomin, squealers will not survive, but Ivan Denisovich feels that Kuziomin is wrong on this point--squealers seem to get by rather well in the prisons. However, there are incidents of squealers having their throats cut during the night.

One-and-a-half Ivan: A 'thin, weedy, dark-eyed' camp guard who is considered by many to be the most good-natured of the lot. Ivan Denisovich, before the morning roll call, decides to stay in bed a bit longer because he thinks One-and-a-half Ivan is on duty.

Tartar: A lean, authoritative camp guard who threatens Ivan Denisovich with three days' penalty in the guardhouse with work for not getting up in time. Instead of taking Ivan Denisovich to the cells, he makes Ivan Denisovich clean the floor of a guardroom.

Lett (in Barracks 7): A Latvian prisoner in Barracks 7 known to have good tobacco, Ivan Denisovich considers buying some from him. At the end of the day, after the evening supper, he buys two glassfuls from the Lett.

Kolya Vdovushkin: A medical assistant on duty at the dispensary when Ivan Denisovich drops by, Kolya is not trained in medicine, rather he is a writer who was given the job by the head doctor so that he would have time to write. Kolya does not grant Ivan Denisovich's request to be put on the sick list.

Stepan Grigorych: The doctor that runs the dispensary (infirmary), Stepan Grigorych is described as a fussy, loud-voiced fellow who advocates work as the best therapy. He institutes a rule that allows only two people a day to be on the sick list.

Panteleyev: A despised member of the 104th, Panteleyev is a squealer, one who spies on other prisoners and reports their activities to the authorities. He is often dismissed from work by the authorities because of the information he provides them.

two Estonians: Members of the 104th, they first meet in camp, but they stick together like brothers. They share everything, they look the same and Tiurin makes sure he never separates them. Ivan Denisovich notes that of all the Estonians he met, he's never seen a bad one.

Der: A Muscovite prisoner (B 731), who works as the chief building foreman, he treats his fellow prisoners worse than dogs. As the 104th is working, Der comes to confront Tiurin about the stolen prefabs. When Tiurin threatens to kill him if he reports it, he backs down and to save face, and perfunctorily criticizes Ivan Denisovich's bricklaying.

Shkuropatenko: Prisoner B 219, he is temporarily given the job of guarding the prefabs from the other prisoners. Ivan Denisovich and Kilgas are careful to avoid being caught by Shkuropatenko when they steal the prefabs.

(prisoner) X 123: An old prisoner, who works in the office with Tsezar, Ivan Denisovich overhears these two talk about the art of film. Ivan Denisovich considers their conversation too learned for him.

Moldavian: Prisoner K 460 of the 32nd squad (known to be a genuine spy)--he falls asleep during the workday and holds up the after-work count. As he joins the rest of the prisoners at the gate, he is booed, cursed, and even beaten by his own squad members.

trusties: Prisoners with soft jobs helping out the authorities. The prisoners who work outside consider trusties the lowest of the lows and vice versa. Trusties usually get their positions through bribery.

Pyotr Mikhailych: A fellow Muscovite whom Tsezar talks to while waiting in line for his parcel, Pyotr tells Tsezar about a film premier that he has read about in an evening newspaper. Ivan Denisovich observes wryly that Muscovites seem to be able find one another right away and that they talk fast, as if to outtalk one another.

camp commandant: The head of the prison camp, the camp commandant is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the camp. Many of the stupid rules to curb prisoners' freedom are attributed to the camp commandant.

Limper (Khromoi): The mess orderly, whose name is Khromoi but is called the 'Limper' because of his lameness, he has a birch club that he uses to hit the 'down-and-outs' who come up the mess hall without his permission. He also has an assistant.

mess chief: Described as a fat pig with a head like a pumpkin, he respects no one and the prisoners fear him because he has the authority to determine who eats and who doesn't.

Old Whiskers: The name the prisoners use to refer to Stalin. While Ivan Denisovich buys some tobacco from the Lett in Barracks 7, two prisoners talk about Stalin.

Snubnose: A guard who is no more than a mere boy. Before the evening count, he takes Captain Buinovsky to the cells for his morning outburst.

barracks commander: The overseer of Ivan Denisovich's barracks, he respects no one and everyone fears him because he is known to take down prisoners' numbers to pass to the guards. A real thug, he is one among a handful of true-life criminals in a camp reserved for political prisoners.

priest (in Polomnya) : Ivan Denisovich, in his conversation with Alyosha, tells him about a priest in his former parish in Polomnya, whom he considers a hypocrite. Alyosha the Baptist responds that the Orthodox Church has departed from Scripture.

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