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 8 (Back to Camp) | Summary



This section describes what happens to the squad and Shukhov when they enter the camp and begins with "There lay the camp."

At the camp gate guards force the prisoners to drop the sticks of firewood concealed in their clothes. Squad 104 enters the floodlit area for yet another count. The guards force the prisoners to unbutton their coats and jackets so they can be frisked for contraband. But the humiliation and cold are not "so terrible [now that they're] going home."

While waiting to be frisked, Shukhov approaches Tsezar and offers to run to the parcel office to hold a good place in the package pick-up line for him. Shukhov stands in line to see whether Tsezar has a package. This saves Tsezar a long wait in line.

It's Shukhov's turn to be searched. Having had no time to collect firewood, Shukhov thinks he's in no danger, but he has forgotten the bit of hacksaw blade in his pocket. Shukhov wonders what to do; the blade could be useful as a tool or for trade, so he doesn't want to throw it away. Then again he doesn't want to spend 10 days in a guardhouse cell. He takes the chance, by instinct, and slips the blade into his left mitten. As his row moves forward, Shukhov maneuvers himself to ensure he's frisked by an older, wearier guard who might not search him too carefully. Shukhov must remove his mittens during the frisking. He holds his right mitten out while holding the left mitten and blade tightly behind it. Just before the guard crushes the left-hand mitten, the chief guard shouts for the guards to hurry up with the frisking. Shukhov and his hacksaw blade, by pure luck, are safe.

While the squads wait to pass through the gate into the camp, the Moldavian is called out of line. He will be charged with attempted escape and punished in the cells. The squads are allowed through the gate but must be recounted once inside the camp. It is bitter cold, and by now they are not only frozen but famished. "That bowl of soup—it was dearer than freedom, dearer than life itself, past, present, and future."

With this final recount completed, "a prisoner became a free man again." Prisoners could go to their barracks or elsewhere in the camp. Shukhov hurries to the parcel office to save a place in line for Tsezar. Others already are waiting, so Shukhov figures he might have to stand for an hour. Before a prisoner can pick up a parcel, camp guards ransack its contents and invariably help themselves to samples of food or other useful items. Shukhov never gets parcels because he told his family not to send any, knowing they were too poor to spend money on him. While he waits, Shukhov thinks only of how soon he'll get to the mess hall to eat dinner. Then Shukhov hears that camp officials have decided prisoners must work next Sunday. They'd have no day off.

Tsezar shows up and takes Shukhov's place in the parcel line. Once again Tsezar starts discussing movies, this time with a prisoner who has received a newspaper in his package. Meekly Shukhov asks if he can leave the line, and Tsezar says he can. Before he leaves, Shukhov cleverly asks Tsezar if Shukhov should bring him his supper. As Shukhov expects, Tsezar says no, since he has other food, and invites Shukhov to eat it instead. So Shukhov has earned himself a double portion and rushes to the mess tent.


The theme of injustice opens this section as the guards decide to enforce the rule depriving prisoners of the few sticks of firewood they've collected. The implication is the guards are angry with one prisoner—the Moldavian—and take their anger out on all the others. This injustice is enforced by the usual threat that the misdeed of one will cause all others to be punished. The tactic serves to sow distrust among prisoners and to turn them against each other. By creating an all-against-all atmosphere, camp officials prevent prisoners from organizing or supporting one another. The divide-and-conquer approach also makes it easier to impose irrational rules. Prisoners become afraid to break rules because the infraction will not only make them suffer but will turn their punished squad mates against them. Thus the inmates are coerced into being complicit in perpetuating injustice.

Some forms of injustice are simply arbitrary. Camp rumor has it that prisoners will have to work the following Sunday. No reason is given for denying a day of rest; camp officials just "invent something" for the prisoners to do because "nothing seems to make the authorities madder than zeks napping quietly," and thus Sunday work is imposed as a form of cruelty to break prisoners in body and spirit.

The extent to which the prisoners have lost their identity is revealed in their thinking of the prison camp as home. "That's what everyone used to say: Going home. We never had time to think of any other home." Their long prison sentences, the inhumanity, and the lack of identity they endure in the labor camp lead prisoners to think of the camp as the only home they have. This the transferred sense of family identity helps prisoners survive.

The symbol of packages comes into play again here. As always, packages represent the comparative riches of the outside world. The coveted items fuel the corruption rampant in the camp among all levels of its inhabitants; among prisoners, packages involve a degree of trust. In this instance Tsezar trusts Shukhov to do favors for him, whereas Tsezar dislikes and distrusts others, particularly Fetiukov. Because Tsezar knows he will have to repay whoever does a favor for him, he chooses to take favors from those he likes and trusts. One reason Tsezar likes Shukhov is that Shukhov knows doing favors is important and, equally important, he knows the way one asks for them. Shukhov is careful not to ask outright for Tsezar's supper; rather he sets it up for Tsezar to offer it. Although not educated, Shukhov understands how to do things; with little to offer—he gets no packages—his knowledge of camp protocol and etiquette means survival.

Furthermore, minor forms of corruption are routine when it comes to packages. The guards who hand out the parcels routinely take some of the best things for themselves. "Every zek who got a parcel had to give and give, starting with the guard who opened it. And when they'd finished their search [of the package] they didn't give you the stuff in the box it had come in; they just swept everything into your bag." Tsezar knows how to "tickle someone's palm" to get special privileges, using bribery to get away with things other prisoners cannot. Tsezar avoids hard labor and is allowed to wear a warm fur hat in camp—an unthinkable luxury for a prisoner unless he bribes key officials to get permission to wear it.

Corruption in the form of comradeship, lying, and favors is as dominant here as in other sections of the novella. Shukhov is revealed as being cunning, knowing the ways of the camp. Prisoners survive by scheming about ways to get just that extra bit more that will help them survive. In addition to doing a favor for Tsezar, and benefiting from it, a similar but bolder action governs Shukhov's choice to hold on to the hacksaw blade while being frisked. He understands "it was money, it was bread." Even if he can't use the blade himself, he can trade it, and he risks suffering, maybe even dying in a guardhouse cell, to keep it.

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