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One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich Book Report

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The novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, is a portrayal of one seemingly normal day in a Stalinist labor camp. The book is set in Siberia in the winter of 1951. Stalin is the current leader of the Soviet Union, which adds to the effect of the harsh prison conditions. Many conflicts are apparent with the main character, Ivan Denisovich, throughout the novel. Solzhenitsyn focuses on three major themes of these camps; individuality, the importance of religion and beliefs, as well as the reality of Russian labor camps.

Firstly, one major theme that the author focuses upon is the search for one's individuality in soviet labor camps. The point of these Stalinist labor camps is to dehumanize its captives of all rights and human dignity. Ivan's name is just one aspect that is demoralized throughout the novel. Instead of being called Ivan, or as the narrator refers to him, Shukov, the officers refer to Ivan as Shcha-854. In Russian culture, it is respectful to call someone by their first name and patronymic name, yet, Ivan is unfortunately referred to by a set of letters and numbers. However, Ivan does not lose faith in his humanity. Consequently, the prisoners are treated by the Soviet Union as objects of labor as opposed to human beings. This demonstrates the lack of respect and inhumanity Ivan endures while he is in a state of constant dehumanization.

In addition, gaining individuality in such labor camps is difficult, however, many of the inmates hold onto beliefs, ideals, and traditions that keep their hopes high. Ivan, for example, always takes off his hat before he eats his inadequate meals. The reader, unfortunately, is not told where this standard comes from, yet, it is an important aspect of Ivan's search for dignity. Accordingly, Ivan keeps a spoon in his shoe for his meals as well. This suggests Ivan's search for humanity, individuality, and freedom in a dismal environment. It is unsure whether anyone else in the camp has a utensil like Ivan's, yet it is assumed that he is one of the few with such a rare tool. Although the spoon cannot be used as a weapon or escape tool, Ivan treasures the small individuality it brings. With the spoon, Ivan is able to eat humanely and not like a savage beast. Although Ivan is starving at most meals, he saves his dignity by slowly eating and savoring each bite. He watches the other prisoners who gobble their food quickly, which reminds Ivan of the dignity that is lost in his fellow inmates.

Secondly, belief and faith are demonstrated as an important aspect of keeping hope throughout the tough days at the labor camps. One character in the novel that is repeatedly focused upon is Aloyshka, the devout Baptist in the novel. Ivan is not portrayed as a religious person, yet he discovers his own beliefs towards the end of the novel. In the first section, the reader even sees Ivan's interpretations of a new Ukrainian inmate when he crosses his heart before eating. Ivan believes, this new inmate will quickly lose this religious habit and the hope that religion will bring the prisoner. Stuck in a monotonous rhythm, the prisoner's lives consist of eating, sleeping, working, and avoiding trouble. Often lost in the shuffle, religion or any beliefs for that matter, become distant. Aloyshka is represented as the nice guy in the novel who is always doing favors for others without expecting anything in return. Likewise, Aloyshka also engages in religious conversations as if it is the only thing on his mind. Aloyshka is always in a peaceful state, which suggests that religion is the main support that gets him through these hard times.

The bread in which the prisoners eat is also a symbol of religion in the prison camps. Many prisoners see the bread as a physical way to maintain survival. However, a deeper meaning is suggested throughout the novel. The bread is shown to fill a spiritual hunger as well as a physical hunger especially for Alyoshka. Even towards the end of the book, Ivan becomes a religious figure as well. Ivan hides some extra biscuits in his mattress to fill his hunger void. When Ivan thinks of all the times Alyoshka has been selfless and helped others in the camp, he decides to give Alyoshka a piece of his biscuit. This somewhat represents the Communion given during Catholic church services. The bread is suggested to be the daily bread mentioned throughout the Bible. This act by Ivan, demonstrates to the reader, that life in prison camps can be more than just trying to survive. There is a sense of camaraderie between prison mates that is, until this point, ignored. Yes, each inmate is responsible for his or her own work, yet it affects Gang 104's progress and punishment earned as well. However, the reader is not shown any friendships that have developed at HQ up until the ending of the novel. This theme is a rather important subject, yet Solzhenitsyn, may have avoided talking about religion in order to show the harsh reality of the prison camps.

Lastly, the most important theme is the unjust punishment and harsh reality of the gulag prison camps. Taking place in Siberia, nature, authority, and inhumane treatment all play a role in the negativity of the story. Inmates are not allowed to wear any clothing other than the prison uniform provided for them. It is a thin garment that fails to protect prisoners from the Siberian winter weather. Inmates are forced to work and stay alert in forty below conditions. As if trying not to stay alive while wearing their inadequate clothes is hard enough, the prisoners are also forced to take part in naked body searches as well. The prisoners are ordered by prison authority to strip down to their bare skin a few times a day in order to make sure the inmates are not carrying unapproved items. Despite the freezing cold, the prisoners must suffer to this humiliating task every day. Often, these harsh weather conditions lead to many inmates becoming ill. Ivan, for instance, wakes up at the beginning of the novel feeling feverish with severe aches. Although Ivan cannot control the way he feels, he is forced to perform his difficult daily work. It is inevitable that the inmates will become ill, and without proper treatment of sickness, some men might even find themselves on the brink of death. When Ivan reports to the camps sick bay, he soon finds out his temperature is not high enough to be exempt from work for the day. Ivan cannot control the sickness he is feeling and he cannot tend to his illness while at the camp. Any chances of getting better are slim to none. This human characteristic is one that no inmate can control; however, each prisoner must continue his harsh work despite the inevitable illness.

Along with the harsh punishment each inmate must endure, the reasons for their imprisonment is harsh in of itself. Ivan is portrayed as a decent man who has no traits of


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