Saturday, May 06, 2017

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is essentially a novel of slavery in a totalitarian system. Ivan Denisovich Shukhov was put in a work camp in Siberia for having been been taken as a POW by the Germans in World War II, which prompted the state to label him a spy. The book is literally the depiction of one full day in the camp, from waking up to going to bed.

Beyond the clear political importance of the novel, which showed the brutality of Stalin and which therefore was a part of the reforms enacted by Khrushchev, you see what forced labor does to people. They were worked very hard in bitterly cold conditions, and spent much of their time figuring out ways to play the system. How to get slightly more food, how to stay warm, how to get some tobacco, whose palm to grease, all of which risk being put in solitary confinement. Escape is not possible because there's nowhere to go. Therefore you find small measures of personal contentment wherever you can.


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