Essay on One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Essay on How the Setting Complements the themes in ODITLOID
In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn?s prize winning novel One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich, the primary themes are quite obviously complemented and developed by the setting. Aleksandr used very clever techniques in doing this, and the result is a thoroughly meaningful and well-written book. Ivan Denisovich is a Russian peasant serving a sentence of 10 years in a Soviet prison camp. The novel is about one of his days out of 10 years, and what he endures every day, because one day is every day in a Soviet Camp.
All through this novel, the theme of human survival and is present. My definition of survival is successfully making it through a certain circumstance. Solzhenitsyn uses the characters in the novel to show this theme by their behaviour, reactions, and their own actions. He also used setting to help display and develop the theme in the novel, by giving the impression of eerie, hopeless, and angry feelings in his settings, by using such places as the sick room, and the work site. Even in the direst situations, the character of Shukhov (as well as most of the other characters in the novel) always retain ?human? aspects, whether it be using good manners, being honest, or making new friends. Once a Zek stops doing these things, he has lost his humanity. The worksite is an excellent example of how a setting complements a theme. Shukhov does as much work as he can at the worksite, partially because it helps him to relax, but it is also his weapon. Sometimes to beat the enemy, you must abide by their rules. If Shukhov decided to be bold and refused to work, it would not help him in the long run. He would probably be shot, and that would not help anyone. However, by working he keeps out of trouble, and out of the way of the authorities. The novel gives the impression that most people don?t like the worksite. That is probably true, but through Shukhov?s wit and survival instincts he has transformed it into a haven of sorts. He can talk to fellow zeks he has grown fond of, and participate in an activity with them. Because they are all working for a common goal, special bonds form between them. After all, we are still animals, and need others of our species to survive. However, the ?higher ranked? prisoners in the camp were known to abuse their power, and you had to figure out which prisoners you needed to turn against and which to trust. There is another important setting which complements this theme ? the mess hall. At the mess hall, manners are taken seriously by a good number of the zeks, Shukhov especially. Shukhov would never lick an empty bowl, and would always take off his hat before he ate. Shukhov does this to preserve his dignity, and to help others keep theirs. In a place like a prison camp, you rely on your fellow prisoners to keep your food ration if you miss a meal, as Fetiukov did for Shukhov, and Shukhov did for Tsezar. By continuing to practice these seemingly minute tasks, the prisoners could successfully combat the prime intentions of these prison camps, to take away your humanity. There is not a single setting or place in the novel that was designed for pleasure, or that gives pleasure anyway. The closest is probably the sick room, but you can?t take advantage of a sick room unless you are sick. The bland d?cor of the sick room didn?t really encourage patients to get better, or give them a happy, healthy atmosphere in which to heal. The design was made to be as bland as possible to squeeze out any ounce of enjoyment or excitement that the zeks could possibly find or have.
A second theme that is supported throughout the novel by the setting is the idea that time can be a possession. Time is very important and very valuable to the prisoners, whether it be time to hide a banned item such as a knife, time to relax and eat meals in the mess-hall, time at the worksite building a power station, time alone for quiet reflection on the events of the day, or time for thinking about the future. Stalin stole, from many people, many years of their time on this earth, often 10 ? 25 years, and his lesser authorities continue to steal the time of the prisoners where they can, because time stolen from the zeks, is less time to disobey camp authorities, make themselves feel better, eat, and is a wonderful way of crushing a man?s
spirit and turning him into a mindless zombie that is unlikely to question camp authority. Any time that the zeks could get for themselves was as precious as a lump of gold, and far more useful when it came to camp-life. The barracks were the zeks? bedrooms, where they could sleep, and probably have the most time to themselves to do with what each individual saw fit. The novel gives mention to a few, such as mending boots for money, praying, doing odd jobs for the authorities to try and gain security in the camp, and odd jobs for the fellow political prisoners. The way that Solzhenitsyn describes the harsh, barren, sub-zero temperatures of that part of Russia complements the first theme of human survival very well. The bitterly cold whether is both a lifesaver, and a life-taker. Yes, certainly very cold, harsh temperatures can kill you, but they can also get you out of work if you survive them. In the camp, if the temperature fell to -41?C or below, the prisoners did not have to work, and were allowed to stay in the camp until the temperature rose above -41?C, then they had to work again. The same applied with snowstorms. ?Shukhov looked hopefully out of the corner of an eye at the milk-white tube: if it had shown -41? they ought not to be sent out to work. But today, it was nowhere near -41??. If you can imagine what that would be like, such bitter cold, feeling the despair of having the hope of no work taken away from you, and more of your time taken away from you. What Shukhov experienced was probably ten times worse than anything you can come up with. ?How can you expect a man who's warm to understand a man who's cold?? Solzhenitsyn, by giving you a very vivid picture of what the setting is, lets you share in Shukhov?s experiences of the camp, therefore complementing the themes in very powerful way. Another setting which complements the theme of time as a possession is when the prisoners are all lined up being checked for forbidden objects, and the big count to see if any prisoners have escaped. The zeks would often stand around for hours in the cold twice a day. Once when leaving the camp to go too the worksite, and again on the way back again. When you think about the 8 years that Shukhov had spent in the camp so far, imagine how many hours he would have spent being checked every day, even at other prison camps.
Another major theme in this novel that is very well complemented in this novel is the ritualization of eating. The main setting in the novel that complements this theme is the mess hall as it is the only place he can eat, without being put in the lock-up for 10 days. Even though eating is a ritual in the prison camps, he retains his humanity by taking off his hat to eat, and this takes him back to the times when he was not a captive in a prisoner of war camp. He starts to remember his wife, and grown up daughters fondly, and these are the times he thinks of them, and wishes for them most of all. The mess hall brings this out of him, as it is in there that he has the most time of the day to himself, which in itself is not very long. By ritualising his meals, it lets him think more clearly about the things that are most important to him, and it keeps him ?human?. The meals he eats, he makes his own using the spoon he crafted for himself, and though the meal itself is not especially tasty, he makes the best of a bad situation, and forces his brain to make it tasty. By doing this, he enjoys his meal thoroughly, as he can never be sure if he will get another one. The mess hall is an interesting setting, as it complements all the themes I have discussed very well, and in almost every aspect of the theme.
Solzhenitsyn has a way with writing, if he managed to incorporate so many different themes (which were to many to fit into this essay) and link them all very carefully through the use of the characters, and especially the use of a very descriptive setting. This is probably due to his own experiences of prisoner of war camps, and that he himself was Shukhov in more ways than one. As the author (Shukhov) wrote, "A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day. There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail. Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days. The three extra days were for leap years."
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Through the character of Shukhov and his actions, Solzhenitsyn demonstrates that humanity can survive even the harshest conditions. Though the prison camp system seeks to destroy, by its very nature, expression of fellow-feeling and actions based on morals and ethics, Shukhov and his fellow prisoners maintain their humanity through small acts and rituals. One such act is removing one's hat at a meal. Another is refraining from licking empty bowls. Yet another is giving away some of one's food and expecting nothing in return. Shukhov must work hard to preserve his capability for self-respect and dignity but throughout the day, he does so despite the enormous odds.
For Shukhov, the mealtimes are his few truly free moments during the day, and he thinks of them as sacred moments. Through the ritual of removing his hat, Shukhov connects himself to the pre-prison world and retains his self-respect. Through using the spoon he crafted himself, Shukhov takes control of the meal, making it in some way his own. The minutes of eating are also a time when Shukhov's only concern is himself. Shukhov's practice of ritualizing meals allows him to place even more importance on something that is important to him.
The zek's main enemy is another zek. Throughout the novel, Solzhenitsyn depicts the ways in which competition and conflict between prisoners further worsen life in prison. A hierarchy that exists between prisoners who work inside and those who work outside the camp. Prisoners with power, like the cook or building foreman, abuse that power, mostly by taking from or punishing other prisoners. The lack of amenities or even necessities in the camp forces the prisoners to turn against each other in order to survive.
The prisoner's entire day, from reveille to final count, is controlled by the authorities. He is given no choice in what work he does and is not paid, yet Shukhov takes pride in the work he does. In working hard at his masonry and taking pride in building a good, strong, straight wall, he is in effect subverting the prison authorities who seek to punish him by making him work. Shukhov, instead, is gaining self-regard by learning a new skill in prison and making his actions meaningful to himself. Shukhov finds a sort of freedom through work because he is no longer working for the authorities but - as his desire not to stop even when the end of day signal sounds - for himself.
The main thing stolen from prisoners at Stalin's camps is time - ten or twenty-five years of their lives. Because of that, any time they can call their own - in the morning before roll call or over meals or simply waiting to begin work - is precious. And conversely, any time that they are forced to wait or work extra is considered time stolen from them. This time is precious not just because it is a brief period of freedom but because the things prisoners like Shukhov do in their free time - earning money and favors by repairing shoes, for example - are necessary to their survival in the camps.