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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Key Facts

Important Quotations Explained

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full title · One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich or Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha

author · Alexander Solzhenitsyn

type of work · Novel

genre · Prison novel; political novel

language · Russian

time and place written · 1959–1962, Russia

publisher · The Soviet journal Novy Mir

narrator · An anonymous individual who speaks in the third person

point of view · The narrator closely follows Shukhov’s experiences, perceptions, and feelings. When an important event occurs, the narrator discusses it within the frame of Shukhov’s understanding. This narrative technique, known as free indirect discourse, often makes it difficult to tell the difference between what the narrator is saying and what Shukhov is thinking.

tone · The narrator uses a very simple vocabulary and syntax. There are few complex clauses or phrases, and the narrator speaks the way an uneducated peasant like Shukhov might speak. However, the narrator sometimes separates himself from Shukhov to show that he understands what Shukhov is too unschooled to grasp. For instance, he explains that the medical orderly Kolya is writing a poem, while Shukhov himself does not understand what Kolya is doing.

tense · Past

setting (time) · Winter, 1951

setting (place) · A Russian labor camp called HQ, which is probably in Siberia.

protagonist · Ivan Denisovich Shukhov

major conflict · The protagonist, Shukhov, and his fellow inmates battle the unjust Soviet camp system and the cruelty of some of its officers. Shukhov experiences an inner conflict between an appreciation of material goods and a respect for spiritual well-being.

rising action · The menace of punishment in the hole for his belated morning rise, ferocious guards, and the dread of another day of work with aching muscles and a fever threaten Shukhov’s physical and mental well-being.

climax · Shukhov avoids disaster and outperforms all his colleagues at the Power Station, laying bricks at breakneck speed. He asserts his personal worth through hard work, for which he is abundantly rewarded with extra rations of bread.

falling action · Shukhov enjoys the fruits of his hard bricklaying work, savoring the extra bread and double helping of gruel at supper; he is further satsified later when he gets some of Tsezar’s bounty.

themes · The outrage of unjust suffering; the struggle for human dignity; the importance of faith.

motifs · The lack of privacy; the cold; camaraderie.

symbols · Shukhov’s spoon; bread; Tsezar’s parcel

foreshadowing · Shukhov is threatened with a punishment of time in the hole at the beginning of the novel; Buynovsky receives this punishment at the end. Shukhov hides a bit of steel in his mitten at the Power Station, worrying about a guard discovering it; a guard nearly discovers it later. Tsezar is famed for the parcels of food he receives; he receives such a parcel toward the end.

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