Present Provoking Past
“Analyze a characters’ response to the past as a source of meaning in a work”
“ . . . the past, no matter what it was like, never becomes
a matter of indifference to the present.”
In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn portrays one normal day in the life of Shukhov (Ivan Denisovich), a Russian peasant unfairly confined in one of Stalin’s forced labor camps for political prisoners. Throughout the novel, Solzhenitsyn depicts how Shukhov has adapted to his surroundings and has been able to survive with a dignity other prisoners have lost throughout their confinement. It is exactly the way Shukhov has been able ...view middle of the document...
Thus, for Shukhov, surviving is going on living, while maintaining his freedom and humanity, even in an environment which has total control over him. As consequence, the most important thing that Shukhov holds on to is his intrinsic code of values and morals. Throughout the novel, Shukhov’s actions are guided by a sense of right and wrong. For example, during the war, his jaw was smashed and he had the opportunity to stay in the hospital on the banks of the River Lovat for five days. Instead, he decided to do what was right, and volunteered, like an idiot, to go back to the front, where he was later wrongfully accused of treason.
Another example of how he held on to his values is when he explains that he didn’t want to turn into a carpet painter after he got out of prison. He points out that that type of a man needed to be free and easy with people, to be brash, to know how to grease a palm or two, that although he had trodden the earth for forty years, hed never either given or taken a bribe, neither had he learned to do so in camp, nor intended to begin to do so, after surviving even camp without deeming it necessary. He believed in earning money based on his hard work; to him, easy money weights light in the hand. It doesn’t give you the feeling you’ve earned it, nor the satisfaction that comes along with it And he clarifies this to the point where he specifies that only if he were deprived of his civil rights and he couldn’t be taken on anywhere, would he turn to carpets for a spell.
The second thing Shukhov holds on to is his value for self-respect and dignity. The novel basically unravels itself around this premise. Simple acts, such as removing his hat before eating, despite the cold weather, obtain great significance for the amount of self-respect it provides him. Acts such as this one, as well as something as simple as crossing one self, obtain a greater value and meaning than they would in normal circumstances because they transform from a simple gesture of respect or reverence, to a defiance to the system which attempts to diminish their value as men and as human beings. Other examples of this premise, are that Shukhov was content when he reached the breakfast hall and there was no line; not only because he would not have to wait to eat, but also because it would keep him from the temptation, which he would have to resist, of liking another man’s bowl. Also, he would retain himself from not eating fish eyes that where floating in the soup, for that would have been to lower himself, even though it may be the only solid food in the soup. Other simple but...