One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich | Study Guide

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich | Motifs



The cold represents both the lethally cold temperatures during the winter in the labor camp as well as camp officers' icy indifference to the prisoners' welfare. The camp officers use the cold to torment the prisoners, such as demanding strip searches outdoors in subzero temperatures or confiscating bits of extra personal clothing some prisoners wear to try to stay warm. One camp regulation forbids prisoners to wear sturdy shoes over their felt boots, thus ensuring their feet are always icy cold, if not frostbitten.

Camp officers make rules to ensure that the cold is a constant presence for prisoners: there is little heat in the barracks, which are extremely cold all winter; prisoners are allowed to wear only ragged cotton clothing to guarantee they are constantly cold. Twigs and scraps of wood collected for the barracks stove may be confiscated at will. Thus camp officials take advantage of the cold to carry out their cold and calculating torment of the prisoners.


Although the purpose of the prison camp is to extinguish prisoners' identities, most inmates find ways to maintain something of their individuality. Small things, such as a hidden spoon or pride at doing a good day's work, help prisoners reconnect with their personal existence, thus spiting and undermining the purpose of the camp by refusing to become the nonentities the camp guards and officers try to make them. In contrast to their nonexistence, however, prisoners' identity badges must be clear and visible. Smudged or faded numbers can lead to punishment.

Prisoners also maintain their identity through interactions with other prisoners. The culture of bribery, as well as sharing and caring for other prisoners, helps prisoners boost their sense of self-worth. Through these interactions prisoners become individuals whose identity is acknowledged by other prisoners.


Comradeship is a feeling of brotherhood shared with fellow prisoners, especially those in the same squad. Comradeship may simulate trust but is more fluid and less dangerous. Throughout the text Shukhov strikes up friendly relations with various prisoners in his squad. Although trust requires a prisoner to be a good judge of character, comradeship can be offered to almost any prisoner. Shukhov speaks and acts in a friendly way to a wide variety of prisoners. If a prisoner is in trouble, Shukhov may cover for him or give assistance. Shukhov usually keeps his thoughts to himself, but he may engage prisoners in casual conversation. Although prisoners may show such friendliness to some others, it is superficial. If it helps the cohesion of the squad and does not infringe on a prisoner's self-interest, it is all well and good; however, comradeship is not the same as trust.


Alyosha is the prisoner the author uses to insert the concept of religious faith in the face of miserable conditions in the camp. As a devout Christian, Alyosha exhibits fortitude, patience, kindness, and generosity whenever he makes an appearance.

Furthermore, he reminds the other prisoners that true sustenance is that of the spirit or soul. Alyosha accepts the conditions in the camp and does not engage in bribery or favors to get more food or other benefits for himself. In fact he urges Shukhov to pay less attention to his physical needs and more to his spirit. Shukhov is sometimes deeply affected by Alyosha's calm acceptance of his imprisonment and is so moved by Alyosha's spirituality that he shares some of his extra food. A prisoner's spirit can be at peace and free even if his body is not.

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