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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 | Symbols


Shukhov's Spoon

The spoon Shukhov has made and keeps hidden in his boot represents Shukhov's free will and individuality. It is something of his own that is part of him and not given or controlled by the camp; only he can use it. In its small way, it is a kind of freedom for Shukhov. It is certainly an expression of his creativity, even his dignity, and an assertion of his rights as a free person in spirit if not in body.

The spoon is also an expression of Shukhov's privacy. He keeps it hidden from guards and camp authorities, not wanting it sullied by his tormentors. It is his secret, his hidden freedom. Keeping the spoon hidden sustains his identity as a unique person who has worth and free will and, in this small way, is independent from the prison camp.


Bread represents survival in the camp, for it is the prisoners' main source of sustenance. Prisoners obsess about the weight of the small chunks they receive each day. Shukhov has been in prison so long that he can detect a hunk of bread a half-ounce smaller or larger than his normal ration. According to the weight of the chunk of bread, Shukhov carefully plans how and when to eat it—how much to eat during different parts of the day. Bread is also a crucial tool, used in mopping up every last bit of food in a food bowl. Receiving and consuming bread is a life-sustaining part of each prisoner's day.

Alyosha, the devout Christian prisoner, reminds Shukhov that bread also represents spiritual sustenance. In communion bread is the body of Christ. Alyosha thus expands the symbol of bread to include its spiritual significance beyond its importance for maintaining the physical body.


Some prisoners have relatives who send their loved ones packages containing food and other goods to help them survive. The packages represent the outside world of relative plenty. Some prisoners, such as Tsezar, get packages replete with all kinds of goods, especially food unavailable in the camp. The implication is that, without the extra protein and other nourishment in the packages, prisoners are less likely to survive. Kilgas, who keeps his packages to himself and does not share, seems better nourished and looks healthier than the others, and his fuller stomach may account for his better humor.

The symbol of packages and their contents dovetails with the theme of corruption and bribery. Tsezar uses his packages for bribery and rewarding those who do favors for him. Tsezar has managed to avoid hard labor and wears a fur hat when others cannot. Squad leaders must use bribery as well: "Tiurin must have greased them with that pound of salt pork" from someone's package to get squad 104 to the power station. Prisoners who do favors for package recipients are more likely to get a small helping of packaged food or another item than those who do not. Thus, packages reinforce and perpetuate the culture of bribery in the camp.

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