Quote 3

“Since then it’s been decreed that the sun is highest at one o’clock.”
“Who decreed that?”
“The Soviet government.”

This exchange in Section 5 between Buynovsky, who jokingly announces the Soviet decree, and Shukhov, who innocently half-believes it, shows the absurd pompousness of the Soviet government. The joke takes the Soviet state’s willingness to decree truths to an extreme. In telling the joke, Buynovsky implies that the Soviet state believes itself all-powerful, able not only to control the lives of its citizens but also to change the very laws of nature. This idea of a government controlling the movements of the sun or the passage of time shows us the foolishness of a regime that blindly takes itself far too seriously.

The exchange also demonstrates the disparity of intellect between the two men. Buynovsky is a cultivated Muscovite with artistic interests, as we know from his impassioned conversations with Tsezar about film. His joke satirizing the Soviet state attests to his sophisticated wit. Shukhov, on the other hand, is perhaps not intelligent enough to understand the joke, since his naïve question shows he accepts the possibility that such an absurdity could even have been decreed. Shukhov is spiritually deep, but he is not a fast thinker, and Buynovsky’s humor goes right over his head. This difference in intelligence reflects the difference in social class present in the camp and in the supposedly classless Soviet society at large.