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full title One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich or Odin den’
author Alexander Solzhenitsyn
type of work Novel
genre Prison novel; political novel
time and place written 1959–1962,
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
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.
setting (time) Winter, 1951
setting (place) A Russian labor camp called HQ, which is probably in
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich!