Section 1 (pg. 3-21) Notes from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Section 1 (pg. 3-21)

At five o'clock in the morning, the reveille sounds and prisoner Ivan Denisovich Shukov lies in his bunk, wondering if he should get up. Usually he is not one to oversleep; there are always errands he can do to earn a little something. This morning, however, he is feeling ill. Ivan Denisovich is an old-timer in the prison camp and although he does odd jobs here and there to earn food or favors, he maintains a level of personal integrity. Ivan Denisovich lives by the words of his first squad leader Kuziomin, a hard-bitten zek (prisoner) of twelve years, who tells a group of newcomers one day about what it takes to survive in the labor camps:

"Here, men, we live by the law of the taiga. But even here people manage to live. The ones that don't make it are those who lick other men's leftovers, those who count on the doctors to pull them through, and those who squeal on their buddies." pg. 4

Topic Tracking: Survival 1

Ivan Denisovich agrees with everything except the part about the squealers (prisoners who rat on their fellow prisoners). They get by all right, although at the cost of other prisoners.

Ivan Denisovich remembers that his squad, the 104th, might be relocated to a different work site, the "Socialist Way of Life" settlement, where there is no protection from the cold. Shuddering at the thought, he decides to visit the dispensary, the camp hospital, to see if he can get the day off. Thinking that the good-natured guard, One-and-a-half Ivan, is on duty, he remains in bed. But another guard, the Tartar, calls him by his number, S 854, and lays down the penalty for oversleeping--three days in the dreaded guardhouse with work. Ivan Denisovich, however resentful, is glad that the penalty is with work because it means hot food and no time to think. This is more bearable than being in the cells without work.

Instead of taking him to the guardhouse, however, the Tartar gives Ivan Denisovich a job of cleaning the guardroom floor. Not wanting to get his valenki (boots essential for winter) wet, Ivan Denisovich takes them off, then sloshes the water onto the floor. One of the guards gets mad at him and yells, "How much water are you going to use, idiot? Didn't you ever watch your wife scrub the floor, pig?" (p. 11) Ivan Denisovich smiles, revealing gaps in his teeth, the result of a bad case of scurvy at Ust-Izhma, his former labor camp. "I was taken away from my wife in forty-one, citizen chief. I've forgotten what she was like," he replies. (p. 12) The guard tells him to wash over lightly and get out.

Ivan Denisovich is well aware of how things function in the camp. A prisoner has to learn when to work hard and when to take it easy:

"Work was like a stick. It had two ends. When you worked for the knowing you gave them quality; when you worked for a fool you simply gave him eyewash. Otherwise, everybody would have croaked long ago. They all knew that." pg. 12

Topic Tracking: Work 1

After scrubbing the floors, Ivan Denisovich runs to the mess hall where Fetiukov, the jackal, is keeping his breakfast of vegetable stew and magara, the unsubstantial "Chinese" oatmeal. Fetiukov is considered the lowest in the hierarchy of the 104th. Sitting down, Ivan Denisovich goes through the ritual of taking his spoon (his little baby) out of his boots, removing his cap, and carefully concentrating on every bite. Ivan Denisovich takes eating seriously because mealtime is important to a prisoner: "Apart from sleep, the only time a prisoner lives for himself is ten minutes in the morning at breakfast, five minutes over dinner, and five at supper." pg. 14

After breakfast, Ivan Denisovich makes his way to the dispensary, careful to avoid the Tartar and other authorities. With the introduction of new regulations, some guards vigilantly look to catch prisoners breaking a rule. On his way he ponders whether to buy tobacco from the tall Lett in Barracks 7, but decides to go to the dispensary first.

Topic Tracking: Authority 1

At the dispensary, a young medical assistant, Kolya Vdovushkin, is writing something. He is not a medical trainee; he is a writer, given the job by the head doctor, Stepan Grigorych, so that he can write in his spare time. Stepan Grigorych is a loud-voiced doctor who believes that work is the best therapy for illness. Ivan Denisovich's temperature is 99.2 degrees, so Vdovushkin rejects his request for a work exemption. Ivan Denisovich walks out, knowing he has to tough out another day.

"How can you expect a man who's warm to understand a man who's cold? The cold stung. A murky fog wrapped itself around Shukhov and made him cough painfully. The temperature out there was -17; Shukov's temperature was 99. The fight was on." pg. 19

Topic Tracking: Survival 2

Back in the barracks, Pavlo, the deputy squad leader of the 104th, gives Ivan Denisovich a ration of bread. After weighing the portion, he puts half of it in his jacket, the other half he stows into a slit in his mattress to prevent anyone from stealing it. Meanwhile, Alyosha the Baptist, his top bunk neighbor, reads from the New Testament (audibly so that Ivan Denisovich can hear). Alyosha has kept his bible hidden in a chink in the wall and it has survived every search.

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