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he removed his cap from his shaven head—however cold it was, he
wouldn’t let himself eat with his cap on—and stirred up his skilly,
quickly checking what had found its way into his bowl.
This account of Shukhov’s breakfast
in Section 1 shows Shukhov’s struggle for
dignity despite the degradation of camp life. Shukhov has no say
over what goes into his morning meal, as the passive syntax reinforces:
he has no knowledge of what “had found its way into his bowl,” as
if the contents of the meal had more of an active control over their
destiny than he does. Nonetheless, he stirs, despite knowing that
stirring will only show him what fate has brought him. Shukhov’s
stirring is a quiet reminder that he yearns to keep any shred of
control over his existence, even if he knows it is futile.
Removing his cap is Shukhov’s gesture toward the appearance
of civilized life. Camp regulations do not require prisoners to
remove their caps at meals, and as the mess hall is cold, taking
his cap off causes Shukhov some discomfort. But this sacrifice does
not bother him. He feels that civilized people remove their caps
before eating, and does so to assert his humanity. Shukhov’s attachment
to this piece of civilized etiquette shows us that the camp is not
entirely successful at removing the prisoners’ humanity.
Ace your assignments with our guide to One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich!