Notes on One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Themes

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Topic Tracking: Authority

Section 1

Authority 1: In the labor camp, a prisoner must learn to abide by the authorities. Their presence is everywhere. Early on, Ivan Denisovich remains in bed because he thinks that a lenient guard is on duty. He is wrong and it almost lands him in the guardhouse. Such is the life of a prisoner; the course of his day can be easily determined by the whims of the guards and authority figures. A wise prisoner knows who to avoid and how much he can get away with. Some guards are notorious for cracking down on prisoners who do not follow even the most insignificant rules and regulations. Ivan Denisovich is careful not to confront any of these authorities.

Section 2

Authority 2: Lieutenant Volkvoi is the security chief of the labor camp and the most feared authority figure for both the prisoners and the guards. His name stands for "wolf" and appropriately enough looks and acts like one. He is known to have carried around a whip that he used when sneaking up on prisoners. The Lieutenant is the epitome of the ruthless authority figure whose menacing presence puts the prisoners in their place. When Captain Buinovsky voices his protests, Lieutenant Volkvoi, without hesitation, gives him ten days in the guardhouse. Also, every morning the chief of the escort guards reads the "morning prayer" that outlines the rules and regulations of marching such as: "A step to right or left is considered an attempt to escape and the escort has orders to shoot without warning." The prayer is recited daily to instill in the prisoners the rules of the authorities.

Section 3

Authority 3: As a former naval captain, Buinovsky is used to being an authority figure. He acts like he is still a captain. He rebukes Fetiukov for picking up other people's cigarette butts. Fetiukov retorts that Buinovsky, too, will soon give in to groveling. Senka, who is deaf, thinks that they are talking about the Captain getting ten days in the guardhouse for insulting Lieutenant Volkvoi. According to Senka, a prisoner cannot afford to be prideful before the authorities. It is the accepted philosophy to "growl and submit" because if you are stubborn, they will eventually break you. Captain Buinovsky, being a newcomer, has not yet adopted this survival approach.

Section 4

Authority 4: Unlike the camp authorities, who are hated and feared, a good squad leader is considered a prisoner's lifeline. Tiurin, the squad leader of the 104th, commands the loyalty and obedience of his members because of his know-how and experience. They are more than willing to do whatever he says because they know their lives depend on his leadership. Even a tough prisoner like Pavlo, a former forest sniper, goes out of his way for Tiurin.

Section 5

Authority 5: Prisoners who are given positions of authority serve as go-betweens between the camp authorities and the prisoners. Der is a prisoner who serves as the chief building foreman. Although the camp authorities do not expect him to do any real work, he tries to exercise his position by confronting Tiurin about the stolen prefabs. After getting a death threat from the members of the 104th, Der backs down. In order to save face, he criticizes Ivan Denisovich's bricklaying. Der is an example of a prisoner who tries to be an authority figure even at the expense of his fellow prisoners. He is said to have served in some ministry before his imprisonment.

Section 6

Authority 6: The Soviet authorities have the power to determine the official story, often overlooking the facts. In Captain Buinovsky's case, he is branded as a spy and imprisoned because he gets a gift from a British admiral. It is useless to argue against the authorities. The Moldavian who is found sleeping in the repair shops is retained by the authorities and given time in the guardhouse. The official reason: attempting to escape.

Section 7

Authority 7: For the prisoners, the authorities are always scheming to make life more miserable for them. They try to control and suppress every aspect of the prisoners' lives. For instance, Ivan Denisovich finds out that there will be work again on Sunday, their usual day off. Ivan Denisovich is able to endure this oppression by claiming small physical, mental, and emotional victories throughout the day. During supper, he forgets about the negatives and focuses only on his food.

Section 8

Authority 8: Ivan Denisovich does not envy Tsezar too much because he knows that much of the parcel will go to the authorities. The list of authorities with their palms out is endless. A person with a parcel must make sure that all the important authorities get their cut.

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