The author of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn of Russia, spent eight years in concentration camps and three years in exile for the offense of writing derogatory remarks about Stalin while serving as a captain in the Russian army. The experiences in the camps provided the material for this novel, the only one of his works published in his native land. This stark story details the events of a typical day in a brutal, arctic slave labor camp in Siberia in the 1940's. The novel unfolds from the point of view of one prisoner, an ordinary working man, called Shukov throughout most of the work.
During a quarter of a century, the vast concentration camp system created by Stalin affected directly or indirectly almost all Soviet citizens. There was hardly any family that did not have a brother, son, husband, or some other relative in the camps. The simple narrative simplicity of this work creates an eerie impression of other-worldly horror and revulsion through the mere telling of conversations, happenings, and thoughts of Shukov (xiii).
For years, this aspect of Russian life was cloaked in secrecy. Solzhenitsyn's novel was the first to lay bare the details of inhumanity in the shameful institution of concentration camp tyranny. Solzhenitsyn shows that the prisons were a microcosm of the Russian society as a whole, not an isolated feature of an otherwise civilized society. He draws parallels between life inside the camp and life outside the camp. We see similarities on both sides of the fence in material and spiritual corruption, suffering, and terror (xiv).
This paper discusses typical details in Shukov's day, patterns of his thinking required to psychologically survive and function in the prison environment, the intricate economic system that operated within the camp, the emotional-social cooperative system among the men, and a summary of the significance of this novel.
Shukov's day beg...