Writing letters now was like throwing stones into a bottomless pool. They sank without a trace. No point in telling the family which gang you worked in and what your foreman, Andrei Prokofyevich Tyurin, was like. Nowadays you had more to say to Kildigs, the Latvian, than to the folks at home.
This passage from Section 4, in which Shukhov ruminates about the uselessness of writing letters, is an example of Solzhenitsyn’s use of the literary device known as free indirect discourse. Free indirect discourse is a way of writing in which a narrator speaks in the third person but communicates a character’s private thoughts. The narrator of the novel is not Shukhov. However, the narrator communicates Shukhov’s inner thoughts and desires without differentiating them from his own. An example in this passage is the narrator’s statement that there is no point in telling one’s family about Tyurin. Solzhenitsyn thus turns Shukhov’s private thought about pointlessness of communicating home after so much time in the camp into one with which we can all identify.
Shukhov’s dismissive attitude toward letter-writing shows how much Shukhov has changed in the last decade. In the duration of ten years, home has receded to a very distant place in his mind. He very rarely even thinks about his wife and daughters. He is not angry or resentful toward his family; they have simply vanished from his consciousness. They, as much as the letters, have “s[u]nk without a trace” into the bottomless pool of Shukhov’s heart. The fact that the family members are never named, while Kildigs and Tyurin are both carefully identified by both name and nationality, shows where Shukhov’s attention lies nowadays. His reference to “home” is ironic, since his camp is now his real home.