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: Survival

Section 1

Survival 1: In the labor camp, survival is the prisoner's most immediate concern. Some prisoners manage better than others do. Ivan Denisovich is a prisoner who has survived the camps for more than eight years. He has endured because he heeds the advice of his first squad leader, Kuziomin, who tells his men that those who do not make it are ones who lick other's plates, depend on doctors, and squeal on fellow prisoners. Ivan Denisovich is a consummate survivor because he has a positive attitude, practical skills, and a strong sense of moral and ethical integrity.

Survival 2: There is a clear distinction between the camp experiences of those who work for the authorities and those who work on the outside. Kolya Vdovushkin is an example of a prisoner given a favorable job without much work or struggles. He does not have to deal with the survival concerns of cold, hunger, and labor that Ivan Denisovich goes through on a daily basis. Ivan Denisovich knows that he cannot rely on those on the "inside" to pull him through life in the camps. Even though he's feeling ill, he knows he must endure another hard day of labor in the freezing cold.

Section 2

Survival 3: Ivan Denisovich observes the difference between Alyosha the Baptist and his squad leader, Tiurin. Ivan Denisovich does not understand how Alyosha the Baptist can be happy, nevertheless survive, even though he does not earn anything, subsists on only his rations, and spends most of his time in prayer and reading the bible. In contrast, Tiurin is a "true son of the GULAG" who knows the ins and outs of the labor camp system, including bribery and fixing the work reports. He knows how to get the best for his squad. Ivan Denisovich understands the importance of a squad leader: a good one will give you life; a bad one will send you to an early death.

Section 4

Survival 4: Captain Buinovsky is a relative newcomer to the labor camp so he does not yet know that to survive his twenty-five year sentence, he cannot remain the same confident, brash naval captain. Every prisoner learns his sense of survival by being wary of his surroundings and conditions. A prisoner who is self-absorbed like Captain Buinovsky does not last in the camps. Pavlo gives the Captain the extra bowl of kasha so that he can survive long enough to learn the ropes of survival.

Section 5

Survival 5: Squads that work together, survive. The members of the 104th work hard because they depend on one another to get their assignments done. This is essential for a squad. When Der confronts Tiurin about the stolen prefabs, several members of the 104th support Tiurin in scaring him away. In his conversation with Captain Buinovsky, Ivan Denisovich explains that God crumbles up the moon to make stars because the gaps need to be filled. The authorities do not care about the survival of the prisoners because their spaces can be easily filled. Therefore, each squad member must help fill each other's gaps.

Section 7

Survival 6: As Ivan Denisovich drinks the thin soup, all his complaints and concerns disappear. His mind is focused on filling his stomach. Food is an essential element of survival and Ivan Denisovich devotes most of his skills and ability to keeping his stomach well fed. While eating, he observes prisoner U 81. This old man has been imprisoned for many consecutive terms, yet has maintained a certain dignity, even in the way he eats. Ivan Denisovich is duly impressed.

Section 8

Survival 7: As Fetiukov enters, bloodied from fighting over leftovers at the mess hall, Ivan Denisovich feels sorry for him because he probably will not survive the camps. Fetiukov does not have any sense of dignity; he is willing to connive, steal, beg, and grovel to get by. This self-serving attitude makes him despicable in the eyes of the other squad members and therefore, he never receives any help. Another person unlikely to survive is Captain Buinovsky because he is too proud. Prisoners must learn to submit, otherwise they are severely punished. Captain Buinovsky is given ten days in the guardhouse for insulting Lieutenant Volkvoi. The guardhouse is the most dreaded place for a prisoner because ten days will ruin your health, fifteen days usually means certain death.

Survival 8: Although Ivan Denisovich starts out the day feeling ill, he not only survives it, he makes the most of it. Many good things happen throughout the day, which makes it an almost happy one. However, it is only one day out of 3,654. Ivan Denisovich, over the course of his sentence, must survive 3,653 such days.

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