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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich | Study Guide

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich | Section 6 (Pride in Work) | Summary



This section describes the afternoon's work on the wall and begins with "After the sunlight."

Crowded around the power station stove, the men are "in high spirits" because Tiurin has fixed a good work report, and they will "have good rations for five days." As the men rest and smoke, Tiurin speaks of his past. He was thrown out of the army and arrested because his family were kulaks and thus victims of Stalin's purges. While listening, Shukhov borrows a bit of tobacco from the Estonians, sharing his improvised cigarette with Senka. Tiurin tells about traveling on a train. Well-heeled young female students in a compartment saved Tiurin by hiding him under their coats. He reached his home and left again with his brother, who was taken on as an apprentice to road builders. But Tiurin left and has never seen him since.

When Tiurin says it's time to start work again, the prisoners get up. Some men mix the mortar. Shukhov and Senka will lay the blocks to build one wall. Tiurin and Kilgas will work on an adjacent wall. Shukhov gets a plumb line to make sure the blocks are level and uses an axe to hack off the crust of ice covering the cement blocks already in place. Seeing that this part of the wall was poorly constructed, Shukhov is determined to do a better job. Mortar is brought up to the wall. Using the plumb line, Shukhov applies mortar and cement blocks, making sure they are level.

Barrows of mortar are wheeled up the ramp. With his personal trowel, Shukhov works quickly to use the mortar before it freezes. He applies and smooths out the mortar, keeping "an eye on the plumb. An eye on the surface. Set. Next." Shukhov is "working so fast he had no time to wipe his nose." Working quickly makes Shukhov's blood pump hard, warming him as he feels a "wave of heat" sweep through his body. Buinovsky gets into the rhythm of making and wheeling up mortar, but he works with Fetiukov who gets lazier. Finally Buinovsky can tolerate Fetiukov no longer, so Fetiukov is instead tasked with heaving up cement blocks, and Alyosha joins Buinovsky on mortar duty.

Another truckload of cement blocks arrives. Men arrive to fix the lift motor, but it's beyond repair. Then Der shows up to inspect the work. "Shukhov hated these snoops like poison." Der shouts for Tiurin and tells him he's committed "a criminal offense" by taking the roofing felt to cover the windows. Before Der can continue, Tiurin confronts him and threatens him if he squeals. Der is afraid for himself and what will happen to him if his superiors see the felt-covered windows; Tiurin provides him with a lie to tell so no one gets into trouble, and a chastened Der leaves.

The prisoners are working hard and quickly. Soon the sun begins to set, and temperatures drop. The stop-work signal sounds, but Shukhov wants to continue until he uses up the prepared mortar. He calls on his squad members to help, and Pavlo volunteers. Shukhov continues to ensure the blocks are level. While Shukhov tries to finish, the rest of squad 104 as well as the other squads at the site return their tools and knock off for the day. As other squads are already lining up at the gatehouse to return to the camp, Shukhov tells Tiurin to go with the rest of squad 104 while he finishes the mortar. "Nothing must be wasted," he thinks. After Shukhov and Senka finish, Shukhov examines the wall with satisfaction and then races down the ramp and out toward the gatehouse.


Skaz is apparent throughout this section, first in Tiurin's recounting of his past and the train ride in a first -class coach where he was out of place: "First class! What are you talking about, you shit?" Profanity is prisoners' everyday language. Later while Shukhov is working, the narrator uses the rhythm of work to describe the labor: "An eye on the plumb. An eye for the surface. Set. Next." The prisoners' rage and defiance toward Der appear in Tiurin's response to Der's threat: "If you say one word, you bloodsucker, it'll be your last day on earth," and the prisoners sneer at Der for "giving himself airs." In this section slang humanizes the prisoners and adds more realism to their experience.

Shukhov and the others in squad 104 are in "high spirits" after a good meal—good, that is, according to labor camp standards. A feeling of comradeship exists among them, as if they were "a family, the squad." Such family sentiment is significant because real family contact is missing among many prisoners, and squad members are all the family they currently have. Shukhov's feelings of friendship extend to sharing tobacco with Senka. When Shukhov hits his stride, he needs more blocks and mortar for the wall. He calls out "Don't let me down, brothers" to urge them to bring him more blocks and mortar. His fellow prisoners in this brutal life are his friends, his brothers on whom he depends.

The feeling of dignity, or confidence in his work, gives Shukhov the audacity to speak "derisively" to Der. Later Shukhov's thoughts reveal, "after working like that, he felt equal to the squad leader" in personal power and self-respect. The interaction here between the even-tempered and timid Shukhov—Shukhov knows how to build a wall whereas Der does not—reveals Shukhov's self-respect and dignity, taking satisfaction in doing good work and empowering him to support Tiurin in standing up to authority.

Even Tiurin is susceptible to the general feeling of accomplishment. Near the end of the workday he jokes, "Why do these bastards make the work day so short? We were just getting into our stride when they call it off." Shukhov appreciates Tiurin's humor and gives his wall one last "good look over" before calling it quits for the day. The narrator reveals another form of self-assertion and pride of a sort when revealing that the lift, as well as other machines at the work site, has probably "been smashed by the zeks" asserting their free will by sabotaging camp equipment. In this way they may also get time off from work while the equipment is repaired. Shukhov, on the other hand, basically derives satisfaction from work well done, seeing it as a personal accomplishment. Self-motivated, he works to finish his task and avoid waste even after time is called. He is true to his principles and maintains his dignity and pride in labor.

The corrupt system that rules the prison camp appears here as it is used by Tiurin and the prisoners to help them survive. Their good humor is likely related to the good work report Tiurin submitted, which will get them better rations for several days. Tiurin's lies or exaggerations are his way of benefiting from the system. Tiurin is indeed a master manipulator. When Der rages about the material covering the windows, Tiurin tells Der how to lie to the authorities to cover up the issue. Self-confident, powerful, and threatening, Tiurin tells Der, "If you say one word, you bloodsucker, it'll be your last day on earth." A coward, Der realizes he must save his own skin by telling the lie Tiurin instructs him to tell.

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