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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 7 (Leaving Work) | Summary



This section describes what happens when the prisoners leave the work site for camp. It begins with "But he went into the machine shop."

Shukhov finds a place to hide his personal trowel, but he's worried he'll be late to the gate and punished for missing the count. Senka has waited for him, and together they run toward the others. The latecomers are lucky; no guard has seen them.

The prisoners line up in rows of five to be counted. Shukhov ribs Buinovsky about whether a new moon is created every month. Then the guards discover a prisoner is missing. The prisoners are annoyed because the more time they spend waiting to be counted, the less time they have for themselves back in camp. The guards recount, with prisoners organized into squads. Shukhov notices that his squad has worked so hard and arrived at the gate so late that no one has had time to collect firewood—twigs, bits of lath, and other scraps the escorts tacitly allow prisoners to keep, with some taken for themselves—for the barracks stoves.

A prisoner is missing from squad 32. Guards and the squad 32 leader rush off to look for him, a prisoner from Moldavia known to have been a real-world spy. If the Moldavian has escaped, the other prisoners might be standing at the gate freezing for who knows how long. The prisoners are furious. They have already worked 11 hours; they are tired, hungry, and cold as night comes on.

If the guards don't find the Moldavian, they will be punished. While the other prisoners grumble, Tsezar passes the time discussing movies with Buinovsky. Finally the prisoners see the guards hauling the Moldavian out of the repair shop. He fell asleep and didn't hear the call ending the work day. The prisoners shout curses at him, as the guards pummel him. Then the prisoners also begin to beat him.

Once again the prisoners must line up in rows of five to be counted. The prisoners are further annoyed as it's late and they've already been counted once. The guards begin the recount, but "the evening was lost" to the prisoners. After the count comes out right, the guards open the camp gates; prisoners are counted yet again by an escort before they're allowed through. Finally the escort gives the order to run "double time" back to the camp. But the half-frozen prisoners march dejectedly, "hanging their heads as at a funeral." As they trek through the snow and back to camp, Shukhov thinks about supper, hoping Tsezar will give him something from his package.

When they see another squad approaching from an angle, the prisoners of squad 104 start to run. They must "get back first" to receive better food for supper and more time for themselves. When they beat the other squad, the 104th rejoices, "elated as a rabbit when it finds it can still terrify a frog."


In this section skaz illuminates Shukhov's nature and mode of behavior. The rather humorous dialogue between Shukhov and Buinovsky reveals Shukhov's attachment to folklore when he claims people in his village believe "God crumbles up the old moon into stars" and creates a new moon each month. In challenging Buinovsky to prove otherwise, Shukhov shows his tendency not to question but to accept. By extension, this is how he lives and survives in the camp, for unlike Buinovsky, Shukhov does not rage against the breaking of rules or question scientific accuracy; rather he believes and acts and reacts according to what is there and what is not.

In the camp, dehumanization shows its effects as major life issues disintegrate into what would pass for pettiness in a normal situation: getting served first, how to smuggle twigs into the camp, and getting a small reward for taking another's place in a long line. When squad 104 arrives first, members are "elated as a rabbit when it finds it can still terrify a frog." The simile reflects a particularly appropriate use of verbal irony because rabbits are considered prey, not predators; the prisoners are in a similar position.

Issues of injustice, punishment, and identity surround the incident with the Moldavian. The guards would have been punished if the Moldavian had escaped, so of course they are furious. After they find him and bring him to the gate, they beat him as punishment for falling asleep and missing the count. This action might be construed as justifiable punishment from the guards who are responsible for overseeing the prisoners and preventing escapes. However, the issue is more complicated when the prisoners themselves abuse and beat the returned Moldavian. It is likely that almost any prisoner would fall asleep while working in a warm, indoor location. Aware of this, they might have spared the Moldavian their wrath and beatings. Yet they are more concerned with how his misadventure affects them rather than with compassion for his understandable weakness. They beat the Moldavian not only because they are "chilled to the bone" but also because "there'd be no time now to do anything of their own in camp." The normally even-tempered Shukhov also "flew into a rage" at waiting in the cold and losing personal time. He thinks, "If the guards handed him over to the zeks they'd tear him apart, like wolves with a lamb." Personal time is precious.

Comradeship and trust are also evident in this section. When Shukhov leaves the work site late he finds Senka has waited for him. Being late for the count at the gate is a punishable offense, yet Senka cares enough about Shukhov to wait for him so he is not alone in being late. Perhaps Senka thinks he can support Shukhov's excuse that he is late because he was finishing the wall. Two prisoners giving the same excuse might evade punishment. Senka is known as a trusted friend who "would never leave anyone in a jam. Pay for it? Then together."

Comradeship is contrasted with competition among squads for time and advantage. The prisoners in squad 104 trudge back to camp oblivious of the guards urging them to "step lively!" With their evening already ruined, the prisoners are in no hurry and don't care what the guards want. Yet when they see another squad gaining on them, possibly overtaking them and getting to camp first, they start to run, everyone "obsessed by one idea: to get back first." This is yet another competition for survival as well as for identity. Squads compete against each other for whatever they can manage to scrounge for themselves. In this case, the earlier a squad gets back to camp the earlier they get to the mess hall, the earlier they can collect their packages, and the more time they have for themselves—even if only a few extra minutes, for in their lives minutes are significant.

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