One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Summary
It's 5:00 am and Shukhov wakes up to the sound of someone banging a hammer outside. His neighbors suck.
Actually, the guy making noise is the warden – Shukhov is in jail.
It's dark and freezing outside and Shukhov feels awful.
He usually gets up early and does stuff on the side to earn some cash, like sewing things for people.
Shukhov's thoughts wander and he remembers his first foreman, Kuyzomin, who gave him some survival tips in 1943.
We get the feeling that Shukhov has been in jail for a long time.
Historical Context Lesson time! OK, jail isn't technically the right term to use here. See, Shukhov is actually in a forced labor camp, known as a gulag. There were hundreds of gulags in the Soviet Union back in the day. Under the rule of Joseph Stalin, millions of people were tossed into them and forced to work in terrible conditions building things like roads and canals and whatnot. Most of the people were in the gulags for no good reason too. Under Stalin's rule, you could be arrested for just about anything – religious beliefs, political beliefs, having contact with foreigners, even if it was only a day. More on that later though. Back to the story.
OK, so Shukhov is feeling sick and doesn't get out of bed.
He sleeps in a four-man bunk in a hut with hundreds of other prisoners crammed in like sardines on similar bunks.
Shukhov is in Gang 104.
It's an important day because there's a chance Gang 104 is going to get the Worst Work Assignment Ever. They may be sent out to a new building site, which means they'll have to dig holes in a frozen field all day.
Luckily, Shukhov's foreman has gone to try to get his gang a better assignment.
The warder on duty in the hut is nicknamed "Ivan-and-a-half," as he is small.
Pint-sized Ivan is a pushover apparently, so Shukhov decides he's good chilling in his bunk awhile longer.
Meanwhile, his bunk neighbors, Alyoshka and Buynovsky, are doing their morning thing.
Alyoshka is a devout Baptist and he is saying his morning prayers.
Buynovsky is an ex-Captain in the navy and refers to everyone as "shipmates." Ahoy.
Buynovsky announces cheerfully that it's 30 below zero outside. Yikes!
Shukhov says screw it, and decides to try to take a sick day.
But then another warder pops up and yanks back Shukhov's blanket. Is it Shukhov's mom?
No, it's a Tartar.
Explanation time: A Tartar has nothing to do with dental care or sauce for shrimp. Tartar here refers to an ethnic group that lives in Russia. The name Tartar was used to refer to people of Mongolian or Turkish descent who lived in various parts of Russia.
Anyway, back to the story. This Tartar is mean and tells Shukhov that he's going to be punished for "sleeping" late.
Warden Tartar is not a fan of the snooze alarm apparently.
He calls Shukhov by his prison number, Scha-854. All prisoners wear numbers on their clothes.
FYI: Scha is a letter in the Cyrillic alphabet, so you don't need to go consult Sesame Street to review your ABCs.
Warden Tartar tells Shukhov he's getting three days in the hole.
Another Historical Content Lesson! The hole refers to a punishment cell where people are put in solitary confinement. If you've ever seen a prison movie (along the lines of The Shawshank Redemption, not Jailhouse Rock) you may have heard people refer to "solitary." Solitary is basically "the hole." Also, fun movie fact: The Great Escape, a cool movie about a bunch of famous classic movie stars, er, Americans and Brits, in a Nazi Prisoner of War camp in WWII, features a smart-alecky character (played by the super cool Steve McQueen) who gets thrown in "the hole" all the time. In that movie, the hole is more dull than anything else, but in this book the hole is deadly since you can freeze to death in there.
Warden Tartar leads Shukhov outside for his punishment and it is freezing.
We learn that the prisoners ("zeks"), can get off work if it is 41 degrees below zero. Holy cow, that's cold.
FYI: "zek" is camp slang for prisoner and it comes from the Russian word for "inmate."
We also learn that the gulag/jail is called the "camp," which is really false advertising. Might we suggest a name change to "Seventh Circle of Hell"?
But then the Tartar marches Shukhov to the Wardens' Clubhouse, otherwise known as HQ, or Head Quarters. It's the camp office basically.
Mistaking Shukhov for Cinderella, the Tartar tells Shukhov to clean the floor as punishment, and no talking mice are allowed to help him.
Shukhov explains to us that the wardens will often just make prisoners do jobs that the wardens themselves don't want to do as punishment. So, no hole time for Shukhov.
First, Shukhov goes outside to fill up a bucket of water for the floor washing. He sees a group of foremen trying to figure out how cold it is. It's freaking cold, is their conclusion, but they won't get off work for it.
One of the foremen is an ex-Hero of the Soviet Union, which is the equivalent of some sort of Medal of Honor or Presidential Citation. They had a really rapid turnover rate of "heroes" in Stalinist Russia, since all the current "heroes" kept getting tossed in jail.
After going back inside, Shukhov quickly cleans the floor and the wardens in the office yell at him and curse him out the whole time.
Shukhov is careful not to get his boots wet, since he'd probably end up with ice blocks on his feet if he did. We learn that Shukhov had a sweet pair of shoes that he had to trade in for winter boots and he's very sad about it still.
The wardens discuss warden business and yell at Shukhov till he finishes.
We learn that Shukhov hasn't seen his wife since 1941. We also learn that, like Cindy Brady, Shukhov has a lisp. Unlike Cindy Brady, this isn't due to braces but to a bout with scurvy. Scurvy is a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency and it causes bleeding of the gums and other nasty things. Healthcare in the gulags clearly sucks.
Shukhov mops quickly and then runs back outside.
He decides to go to sickbay to see if he can get off work today.
But first he rushes over to the Mess Hall for some food.
It's total chaos in the Mess Hall – people are fighting over trays and shoving each other and trying to find a spot to sit.
Fetyukov is watching Shukhov's breakfast for him. Fetyukov is at the low end of the totem pole in Gang 104.
On the menu this morning is some sort of gross soup/gruel concoction with boiled fish in it.
We learn that Shukhov removes his cap before eating even though it's cold. He refuses to give up his good manners entirely, even in the Camp Gulag-awaka (sponsored by Fozzie Bear, "waka waka").
Shukhov has a spoon that he made himself at another labor camp back in 1944.
We get a run down of the type of food served in Camp Gulag. In short: it sucks.
Food time is special though, since prisoners are starving and they get very little time to themselves outside of meals and sleeping.
We learn that Shukhov is in a "special" camp. That sounds dangerous.
Historical Context Lesson! OK, a "special" camp in Soviet Union lingo means a camp set up for political prisoners. The people in special camps, which are all hard labor camps set up in the 1940s, are for people convicted of a variety of "political crimes" under the Soviet penal code. These crimes ranged from "treason" to "counterrevolutionary activity" to "sabotage." As we'll see later (spoiler alert!), most of the sentences were total garbage.
Shukhov finishes his delicious breakfast and goes back outside.
He hides behind a building to avoid the Tartar, who is on the prowl again.
The camp has lots of really absurd rules, like prisoners have to take their hats off when they see a warder, and people get punished for stupid little things all the time.
Shukhov remembers he had a deal to buy some tobacco from a Latvian dude in a neighboring hut, but he decides to go to sickbay instead.
Sickbay is clean and quiet inside and it makes Shukhov nervous.
The orderly on duty is a guy named Kolya Vdovushkin. He's totally unsympathetic to Shukhov but takes his temperature anyway.
Apparently, you have to "plan ahead" if you are going to be sick and come into sickbay the night before, since they can only let off two people from work detail on any given day.
Vdovushkin is writing something that looks shifty.
Shukhov sits with a thermometer in his mouth and feels awkward.
The new doctor in camp, Stepan Grigorich is a nut apparently and thinks that the best cure for illness is hard work.
Shukhov thinks this guy is a total jerk.
Vdovushkin has a secret – he's not really a medical orderly at all! He lied to get the job so that he'd have time to work on his poems. Yes, he's an aspiring poet. Hence the shifting writing.
So, basically, a poet with no medical training is performing medical procedures on unsuspecting patients. Yikes.
Shukhov might want to hightail it out of this little shop of horrors hospital.
Turns out, Shukhov has a mild fever, but not enough of one to get him off work, so he has to leave. He's bummed.
Shukhov trudges back to his hut, where everyone is crowded inside. No one wants to line up for work.
Gang 104 is all there, and the deputy foreman, Pavlo, is glad to see Shukhov. He saved his bread ration for him.
Prisoners get 550 grams of bread a day, but their rations are usually short.
Shukhov quickly hides part of his bread ration in his bunk so that he can eat it later.
Alyoshka is reading his Bible, which he hides every day before they march off to work. Wardens search the hut during the day and people steal stuff all the time. Bibles are also not allowed in the camp.
Finally the call comes and Gang 104 has to go outside.
It's freezing and miserable and the sun is only just starting to rise.
Everyone lines up to go past the security checkpoint before marching to the worksite.
Gang 104 has gotten out of the bad assignment, thanks to their good foreman Tyurin.
But the gang is all mad to learn that Panteleyev is out sick. Panteleyev is an informant for the guards and he isn't really sick at all; he's staying behind to rat people out.
Then Shukhov remembers that he needs to get his number patch touched up because the guards punish people for having faded numbers.
He gets in line as an old artist paints over his number for him to make it more visible.
When Shukhov goes back to his gang he spies Tsezar, a former director, smoking a cigarette.
Fetyukov, the gang scavenger, is standing there too, begging for a puff.
Tsezar ignores him and gives his cigarette butt to Shukhov, who gladly smokes it, even though its burning his mouth and getting ashes everywhere.
Shukhov is happy, but then he hears a rumble through the crowd: the guards are making the zeks remove their shirts during at the security checkpoint, which means everyone will be freezing before they even set off on their daily march to the worksite. It's like annoying airport security checks times twenty here.
The reason for the over-zealous searches is the arrival of Lieutenant Volkovoy, the camp disciplinary officer. He's super-mean and used to carry a whip around with him, but he's stopped lately.
Since their boss has shown up, the guards are now going overboard with their searches.
Shukhov thinks about how stupid morning searches are, since no one really bothers to smuggle much out of the camp.
Then Volkovoy, the punk, announces that zeks are only allowed to have two shirts on, and he busts Tsezar and Buynovsky for having on extra clothing.
Buynovsky is furious and yells at Volkovoy for the unfair treatment, and Volkovoy yells back that Buynovsky is getting ten days in the hole starting tonight.
Gang 104 knows how bad this is because they actually built the jailhouse in the camp themselves. It's made of stone and it's bitterly cold inside.
Shukhov is still feeling sick and exhausted as the gangs all set off on their daily forced march.
The camp's exercise regime could use some improvement.
The guards make everyone group off in fives so they can count them. The guards are all about the numbers, cause they'll be punished big time if the numbers don't add up.
Shukhov ties a rag around his face since they'll be marching straight into the wind in a moment.
Buynovsky explains some things about the weather, and we learn he's sort of the know-it-all of the gang.
The escort guards have guns and dogs with them.
One guard yells out the rules of marching to the zeks: no talking, no touching, etc.
They all set off across the snowy, frozen plain.
Usually the zeks talk anyway, but it's too cold to chat today.
While marching, Shukhov's thoughts wander.
He thinks about the letter he'll write home soon. He's allowed to write two letters per year.
We learn that it is now 1951, and Shukhov hasn't been home since 1941, and he's been in prison since 1943.
He fought in World War II.
Shukhov has more to say to the members of his gang now than he does his family. He has a wife who writes him letters, and children as well.
His wife works on something called a "kolkhoz."
Russian Translation Time: A "kolkhoz" is a collective farm, which was a big program under Stalin. Since he was a communist, Stalin gave private property a thumbs down and told everyone to combine all their belongings and to work together on collective farms. And by "told" we mean that he forced people to work on the collective farms, confiscated their property, and shipped people who protested off to gulags. Known as "forced collectivization," the process led to a huge famine and millions of people died on farms and in prison camps throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
So, basically, before the war Shukhov lived a quiet little peasant life in a village. Now his wife works on a collective farm and is very poor.
Shukhov finds all the changes in his village confusing.
His wife wrote him last about a new business that's sprung up – dyeing carpets. Returning soldiers started it up, since they refused to work on the collective farms, which are a big racket basically. You work your butt off, and the government takes nearly everything you produce.
Shukhov's wife hopes he'll take up carpet dyeing when he gets home, and he can go around and sell his carpets too as a traveling salesman.
If Shukhov is looking to bust into the salesman business, we'd advise selling the ShamWow. Seems like more of a money maker.
Shukhov has two years left on his ten year sentence though, so he tries not to get too excited about the future.
Plus, he finds this carpet business somewhat shifty. His wife assures him that any idiot can dye carpets, though, so he'll do fine.
Shukhov does worry about how he'll get along in the outside world after having been in jail for so long. He'll have to develop new habits and routines and skills, and it's pretty daunting.
Plus, life outside of the gulag in Stalinist Russia isn't exactly a cakewalk. In fact, it's really difficult.
Lots of people get extra time slapped onto their sentences for no reason, or are sent into exile from Russia, so Shukhov isn't overly hopeful about his future prospects.
The gang now arrives at the work site.
It's filled with barbed wire gates, broken machinery, half finished buildings, and lots of snow.
Sounds like a postcard.
Alyoshka smiles at the sight of the sun coming up.
Shukhov thinks he's nuts, but notes that all the Baptists are crazy. All the Baptists got twenty-five year sentences in the gulag, just for practicing their religion.
Services aren't allowed in the camp, but the Baptists always whisper to each other all day on Sundays.
Gang 104 has a great foreman, named Tyurin. Shukhov actually knew Tyurin back in his previous camp, Ust-Izhma.
Your foreman matters more than anything else in the camp; a bad one can get you killed.
The zeks halt at the checkpoint of the worksite and the head-count process starts up again.
Finally they all get inside the compound and hustle off to warming sheds – little shacks with stoves in them.
Tyurin, Pavlo, and Tsezar head off to the offices though. Tsezar is rich and bribed his way into a nice office position, but he helps out the gang with his job.
The rest of Gang 104 goes to an unfinished auto repair shop but Gang 38 is already there, blocking the stove.
Shukhov is careful to ration out his food, and he lets himself have a snack of bread right now.
The rest of the gang chills out.
Two Estonian dudes talk quietly. They met in the camp and became BFFs.
Fetyukov is gathering up cigarette butts for himself.
Buynovsky tells him that's gross. The ex-Captain always barks out orders and things to people like he's still on a ship.
Senka Klevshin pipes up randomly that the Captain shouldn't have yelled at the guards that morning.
Senka is partially deaf and can't really follow what people say.
He was in a Nazi POW camp during WWII, then he ended up in Buchenwald, which was a concentration camp, and then he ended up in a gulag.
OK, so how did Senka go from a POW to gulag zek? Well, under Soviet law in the Stalin era, any contact with foreigners was considered super-shifty and even treasonous. Seriously. Stalin, and the rest of the people running things, were really xenophobic. Xenophobia means a fear and hatred of foreigners. So since Senka had "contact" with foreigners (Germans), even though this contact occurred in a concentration camp, Senka was given a sentence in a gulag.
Historical Context Info: Also, some background on Buchenwald: Buchenwald was a Nazi concentration camp located in Germany. It was a prison for Jews, Poles, Gypsies, POWs, and various other political, religious, and national prisoners. Thousands died there, either by execution or from the terrible living conditions in the camp. Inmates were used as slave labor. The camp was liberated by American troops in 1945. So Senka had "contact" with Americans as well, which made him doubly treasonous under Stalinist law.
Meanwhile, Alyoshka is praying.
Pavlo comes back.
Kildigs, a Latvian, notes that they haven't had a blizzard in a while and wishes they would.
Blizzards are like snow days off from school, except the zeks have to sit in their huts all day with no heat.
Tyurin finally shows back up and the Gang get their assignments for the day.
The Estonians, Senka, and a dude named Gopchik go to carry a mixing trough to the Power Station, Gang 104's spot for the day.
Others go to fetch tools, start a fire, etc.
Shukhov and Kildigs are the most skilled laborers in the gang, so they get a special assignment.
Their task is to find something to block the big open windows in the Power Station so the gang won't freeze while working.
Gopchik comes back to ask Tyurin for some help. Gopchik is only sixteen.
Kildigs and Shukhov get along well and they set off on their super-important mission, while humming the Mission Impossible theme. OK, not really.
Kildigs has a bright idea, and he and Shukhov go to steal some tarred paper to use to cover the windows.
First Shukhov goes to pick up a trowel that he's hidden. He likes it and doesn't want someone else to steal it from him, so he hides it in a new spot daily.
It's a long walk to the tarred paper.
On the way they run into Gang 82 digging holes. The ground is frozen though and it's nearly impossible.
They find the tarred paper and decide to sneak it back by hiding it between them and walking along with it like it's a person.
Why are they worried about sneaking supplies back? Well, there's not enough to go around, so people steal stuff all the time to use for their jobs. The free workers at the site are really stingy with supplies, so the zeks especially have to steal stuff.
What's with the free workers? Well, these people are likely in forced exile. Not everyone who broke a law under Stalin's regime got slapped with a gulag sentence; some just got internal exile to crummy locales like Siberia. These "free" workers get some perks and more food than the zeks do, but they don't have it that much better overall.
So Kildigs and Shukhov make it back to the Power Station with their tarred paper.
The equipment in the Power Station is mostly broken, so the gang is going to have to haul everything upstairs themselves so they can get to work finishing the brick wall of the building.
Everyone gets to work either mixing mortar for bricklaying (mortar is sort of like glue that holds the bricks together) or putting up the tarred paper.
Shukhov explains how the workers are actually forced to work: the camp system is set up so that everyone in the gang is rewarded or punished together. So the gang forces one another to work so that they can get food.
Shukhov has hidden his trowel again since the men in the gang may steal it, even if they are his friends.
Shukhov is working with others now to build a chimney for the oven they need to heat the bricks in. He's very caught up in his work.
Fetyukov is bringing in sand on a wheelbarrow. Fetyukov used to be a boss in a factory, but he doesn't have manual labor skills, so he gets stuck doing loser jobs.
Shukhov explains that percentages matter more than the actual work done. The foreman can finagle a good "percentage" for the camp, so they get more food, but the amount and quality of their work really doesn't matter.
We really wouldn't want to work in this Power Station then. The whole thing will probably collapse in a month.
The gang is hauling in equipment and working hard, since they are freezing and want a good fire going.
Gopchik trots in with some aluminum wire he's stolen and asks Shukhov to show him how to make a spoon later.
Gopchik is sixteen and he was arrested for aiding the Ukrainian resistance movement. He got a grown-up sentence even though he's young.
FYI: Russia invaded the Ukraine, which ticked the Ukrainians off, to put it mildly. During World War II people in the Ukraine were fighting off both the Nazis, who had also invaded, and the Russians, who had invaded earlier. Russia invaded a lot of places and forced them to join the Soviet Union before and after World War II. Estonia and Latvia were also forcibly taken over, which explains at least partly why people like the two Estonians and Kildigs are in jail. People from the countries that Russia had invaded didn't really have to do anything to merit a gulag sentence; just being non-Russian was plenty.
The chimney is now done.
Gopchik and Senka nail up the tarred paper.
Kildigs, Pavlo, and Gopchik start joking around, but Shukhov interrupts them when he notices that they are cutting the tarred paper incorrectly. Oh, that Shukhov. Such a taskmaster.
Other men are working on making mortar for the upcoming Brick Wall Building Excitement. Since this is a camp, what time is lanyard making and canoeing? Oh, wait.
A truck pulls up with cinder blocks.
Alyoshka comes back with coal for the furnace.
Buynovsky yells at Fetyukov for sitting down and not working.
Shukhov notes that the Captain is looking pretty rough, but he keeps working.
While the other men go to unload cinder blocks, Pavlo, Shukhov, and Kildigs go upstairs to check out the wall.
They decide that they'll have to station men on the various levels of the building and have them hoist up bricks and mortar to the bricklayers. Sounds fun. And by fun, we mean inefficient and horribly exhausting.
Shukhov is surprised at how late it has gotten – it's nearly dinner time. Or lunch time in our lingo, but they call it dinner here.
The three head back downstairs and find everyone else sitting down, chillaxing.
Pavlo yells at them and sends them off to move cinder blocks and start mixing mortar.
Kildigs, Shukhov, and some others go to fix a broken handbarrow.
Shukhov says it must be noon since the sun is so high.
Buynovsky says that the Soviet government has decreed that the sun is highest at 1:00 now.
Pavlo then calls Kildigs, Senka, and Shukhov over to have a break by the stove since they'll all be laying bricks after dinner.
The others start joking around with Shukhov and laugh about how he's been in eight years and only has two more to go in his sentence.
Shukhov thinks it's sort of fun that he's a celebrity in the camp. Most people in the camp now have gotten slapped with 25 year sentences, so Shukhov seems "lucky."
The 25 year sentences for everyone, for anything, started up in 1949.
Kildigs has a 25 year sentence.
Shukhov doesn't want to brag, so he just says you can't predict the future and who knows if he'll get out on time or not.
We learn all about Shukhov's arrest now. Flashback time! Cue the whooshy Lost sound.
OK, so Shukhov is officially in for treason and he confessed to this after the Soviet police beat him up.
What really happened was that in 1942 Shukhov was captured by the Germans. But he and four other prisoners managed to escape. By the time they made it back to their side, only Shukhov and one other guy were alive.
The Soviets instantly accused them of being Nazi spies, because paranoia and wacky ideological beliefs courtesy of Stalin were apparently in that season.
So Shukhov was beaten up, forced to confess to something he didn't do, and given a ten year sentence in a gulag. The end.
Senka catches something about escape talk and loudly announces that he's escaped three times, from the Nazis that is. He's never bothered escaping the gulag. Granted, after pulling a stint in Buchenwald, the gulag probably seems nice to Senka.
Senka is a bit of a mystery because he's always so quiet. The others know he's had lots of adventures and that he was even involved in an underground organization at Buchenwald.
Kildigs jokes that Shukhov's spent most of his times in easy camps.
But Shukhov says that this camp is nicer than the other camp he's been in since they get bigger rations and stop work on time usually.
Fetyukov argues that this camp is a hell-hole since people are getting their throats cut.
It's true: there's been a bit of a serial murder spree, but the people targeted are known informants.
Pavlo thinks the informants have it coming.
The whistle goes off: dinner time!
Pavlo rushes to the mess hall with Shukhov and Gopchik.
On the way there, Shukhov's thoughts wander to the eating situation in the camp.
It's a totally corrupt racket basically. People in powerful positions, like the cook, get more food and better food than the average zek, and everyone is always fighting over what food they do get and are trying to get more.
It's down and dirty survival of the fittest here.
Inside it's total chaos, as usual.
Once in the chaotic mess hall, our boys from 104 get to work finding trays and getting some food.
Gopchik runs back to bring the rest of the gang once Pavlo secures a spot in line.
Shukhov is excited since today is oatmeal gruel day. We don't recognize that Quaker Oatmeal flavor, perhaps it's new.
The cook starts passing out bowls. The foreman gets an extra portion always. Tyurin always gives his to Pavlo, since he's cool.
But then the cook gets distracted counting bowls, and Shukhov is able to steal two.
Shukhov and the cook get into a shouting match over it, but the cook can't prove that any bowls are gone, so he drops it after a bit.
Gang 104 has shown up, and are announced by the Captain who starts shouting at people to move. He has such great people skills.
Shukhov passes the extra bowls off to the two Estonians in order to ditch the incriminating evidence.
Shukhov is then super-anxious because he wants that extra bowl of delicious gruel, but Pavlo will ultimately decide who gets to eat it since he's the man in charge currently.
Shukhov might need to get in touch with his inner Oliver Twist ("Please, sir, I want some more" and all that).
Shukhov finishes his first bowl of gruel and positions himself strategically near the extra portions.
Pavlo is cool, and passes one to Shukhov. Score!
Fetyukov sulks over this, but he didn't do any fancy bowl stealing, so he doesn't get any.
Pavlo also reminds Shukhov to take Tsezar's bowl to him when he's done eating. Tsezar chills in the office and never comes to the mess hall.
The Captain is now zoning out at the table. He's been looking rough for months now. In fact, he's very new to the camp, only a few months in, and he's not used to prison life yet.
So Pavlo gives the Captain the other extra bowl.
Shukhov then goes to the office to give Tsezar his gruel.
When he gets there he finds Tsezar having a debate about film with another random inmate.
This intellectual debate goes over Shukhov's head, but basically the two men are questioning whether or not an artist should compromise with an oppressive government and continue to make art, or if the artist should refuse to compromise and not do any art at all.
Tsezar takes his bowl and doesn't even notice Shukhov is there.
Seeing that he's not going to get any extra food, Shukhov leaves.
On his way back to the Power Station, Shukhov finds a small piece of steel and pockets it. He can maybe make a knife with it later.
Back at the Station, there is good news – the foreman and Tsezar got a good work rate for the gang, so they'll eat well tonight.
Tyurin is in a chatty mood and he's telling the gang his life story, or part of it at least.
Tyurin was in the army in 1930 but he was tossed out unceremoniously for being a kulak, and was given a black mark on his record to boot, so he'd never be able to get another job.
What the heck is a kulak? Well, a kulak is a term for a "rich peasant," which seems like an oxymoron, or like two words that don't go together. But kulaks were farmers and peasants who owned some property or had some savings. They weren't just day laborers or something. Stalin had it in for kulaks since his communist ideology preached that any sort of property and wealth was bad. As Stalin's reign of terror progressed, though, "kulaks" became a term applied to anyone who was deemed an "enemy of the state." So it lost some meaning after a while.
Anyway, Tyurin got fired and had to go back home. First he tells us that the guys who threw him out of his unit were all either arrested or shot in 1937 or 1938.
The mention of 1937 is important, so it's time for another Historical Context Lesson! Good times. 1937-1938 was a period known as the Great Purge. Stalin went more off his rocker than usual that year and decided to "purge" half the population. The purge was a period of extreme political repression. There were tons of arrests and executions, which was sort of par for the course in Stalinist Russia. What was unusual about the Great Purge was the sheer amount of arrests and executions that occurred (up in the millions) and who was getting arrested. During the Purge, high level officials, politicians, army generals, scientists, etc. were arrested too. Before this, really top-level people hadn't been arrested en masse as much. There were also a lot of "show trials" or fake trials for party officials, who confessed to bogus charges and then were promptly executed. People were actually taken outside the courtroom and then shot.
OK, so Tyurin left the army and tried to catch a train home. In 1930 Russia was coming off of a bloody civil war, which started up after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 (when the communists first came to power). Times were tough in other words and it was very hard to get on trains.
Tyurin snuck on and some ladies on the train helped Tyurin out and hid him from the secret police, who were patrolling around and arresting people.
When he got home, he found that his family was about to be deported for being kulaks, and communist radicals were wandering around his village, killing people.
Tyurin took his little brother and dropped him off with some thieves in order to save him from being deported, but not from a life of crime, apparently.
Tyurin concludes his little narrative by saying that he never saw his brother again.
The foreman says it's time to get back to work.
So Shukhov, Kildigs, Senka, and Tyurin go to lay bricks on the wall. Pavlo joins the others in mixing the mortar and hauling up supplies.
And they all get to work.
Shukhov is very skilled and is a bit of a perfectionist, and pretty soon he's totally engrossed in his work.
Work is going well and quickly.
The men hauling supplies are exhausted but they keep going.
But then Buynovsky yells that he refuses to work with Fetyukov anymore, since he's a lazy bum.
The foreman makes Fetyukov hand blocks upstairs and puts Alyoshka with Buynovsky on the wheelbarrow.
Then Der, the overseer of building, comes up. He's a former government official from Moscow, so he thinks he's hot stuff.
Der tries to give Tyurin crap about stealing the tarred paper, but Tyurin and his wingman Pavlo stare him down and Der gets scared.
Guess the murder spree has unnerved him.
He babbles like a fool and then slinks away.
The gang gets back to work after the interruption.
Gopchik eventually notices that Gang 82 is handing their tools in and Tyurin tells him to mind his own business. He also calls him "small-fry," which is awesome.
Suddenly the hammer clangs, signaling the end of the work day.
The gang just made a new batch of mortar, which is bad timing.
So the bricklayers frantically try to use it up and lay bricks really fast.
Tyurin finally says screw it and to just throw the extra mortar in a hole and shovel some snow over it to hide it.
Everyone starts packing it in, and the bricklayers start finishing up.
But then Shukhov offers to stay later and let him finish up his wall section. Shukhov has a strong work ethic and takes pride in whatever work he does.
Senka stays with him to finish.
They are frantic and Senka finally yells at him that they have to leave.
Shukhov takes time to quickly hide his trowel and the two men run outside.
Outside, hundreds of other zeks are waiting on them and start yelling at them. It's scary.
But then Senka yells back, which shuts everyone up since they are shocked to hear from him.
Someone yells out that he thought Senka was deaf and they just wanted to see if he could hear them or not, and everyone laughs.
Everyone groups up for yet another head count.
Shukhov starts joking around with the Captain about astronomy. He tells the Captain his village beliefs and stories, which annoys the overly-serious Captain since they aren't scientific.
But then the zeks learn that they are one man short, which means they'll have to do a re-count.
The men are mad since this wastes time.
The guards are panicking because if they lose a guy they can get fired, or worse. Or worse in the Soviet Union generally means thrown in jail or shot.
So they make everyone line up in gangs now, which takes forever to sort out since everyone had just been milling around randomly.
Finally Gang 32 reports that they are missing a man.
The zeks murmur that it's the Moldavian spy, who is actually a real spy unlike most of the prisoners in the camp, including Shukhov himself.
Everyone is getting really mad now and wonders where this spy is.
Tsezar tries to chat about film with the Captain while they are waiting, and the Captain wants him to shut up cause he's tired.
Finally the Moldavian shows up with some guards. He snuck off from his work detail and fell asleep.
The zeks all start yelling at him.
The Moldavian's deputy foreman punches him, which moves him away from the prison guard, but a Hungarian in Gang 32 then pops out and beats up the Moldavian some more. Everyone cheers.
Finally the guard raises his gun and everyone stops fighting and yelling.
The guards then make everyone line up for yet another recount, which causes all the zeks to start shouting at the guards.
The guards threaten to make them sit in the snow all night, which shuts everyone up.
Shukhov is exhausted and angry that his evening is shot.
Finally everyone starts marching back to camp.
It's dark now and colder.
Shukhov overhears a discussion between two zeks, and hears one guy say that he used to be a liaison officer with the British Navy (not a big surprise he got arrested then). Shukhov thinks it's strange that a former fancy-pants officer could be reduced to hauling a wheelbarrow.
The guards yell for the zeks to hurry up, but the zeks walk even slower to stick it to the guards.
Shukhov decides he doesn't feel as sick anymore and decides to avoid sickbay.
He'll have supper instead.
But then the gangs all spy some other gangs marching to camp across the plain.
These are the gangs from engineering, and they take twice as long to search since they could actually smuggle in stuff for weapons.
So the 104 and the other gangs with them start running like crazy in order to beat the engineering gangs and get their supper faster.
And it's a foot race!
Our boys win.
When they arrive the guards make some of the men drop the firewood that they've gathered for the evening just for show – yet another dumb camp rule that isn't fully enforced.
It's just dumb luck if you can get through with a bundle of wood or not.
Time for evening body searches.
Shukhov offers to go look to see if Tsezar has a package, hoping he can get a small cut from it if Tsezar has one. Tsezar says, whatever.
But then Shukhov remembers that he still has a piece of steel on him from earlier.
This is super bad.
He doesn't want to drop it, since it's useful, but going through the search point with it is highly risky.
He decides to go for it, and he hides it among his mittens, which he bunches in one hand.
He picks out an older guard to do his search, since he figures the old guard is jaded and doesn't do his job super-well anymore.
After some tense moments, Shukhov gets through.
He's really relieved.
Meanwhile the sleepy Moldavian is being led off to the hole.
Finally, Shukhov gets inside the camp and trots off to the camp post office.
The foremen all head off to get tomorrow's work assignments.
The line at the post office is crazy long, which seems a constant state of affairs, gulag or outside world.
Getting a package is a huge process since the orderlies rip it open and search it and spill stuff. So men have to bring sacks to catch everything.
Shukhov holds a place in line for Tsezar, who is off getting his bag.
Shukhov never gets packages, since he told his wife not to send them since she can't really spare anything from her or the kids. But Shukhov secretly wishes he could get mail just once.
Meanwhile, he learns that the zeks won't get Sunday off this week. Worst camp ever.
Tsezar finally shows up and starts chatting with a fellow Moscow resident about a recent newspaper they've seen.
Shukhov rolls his eyes and goes to leave. But Tsezar gets down from his ivory tower long enough to tell Shukhov to eat his dinner portion if he wants.
Shukhov wants and he is off like a flash to the mess hall.
On the way he thinks of all the stupid rules that govern camp life.
First he stops off at his hut and retrieves his piece of bread from his mattress.
Then he arrives at the mess hall. It's a mob scene outside.
The mess hall is totally like some sort of old western saloon – we can picture Shukhov walking up and seeing someone come flying out of the swinging doors while someone plays "Camptown Races" on the piano and other men smash bottles over people's heads. And some guy swings on a chandelier. OK, maybe that's us. Point is: the mess hall is crazy.
Limpy, the mess orderly, is standing at the door beating people back since there are too many gangs inside already.
Shukhov is worried that his gang is already inside, meaning that he won't be able to go in now.
It's almost lights out time, so the gangs are all frantic to get inside.
The mess staff start pushing the zeks back and knock them down like bowling pins.
People are mad.
Finally Shukhov spots Senka and is thrilled.
He does some mosh pit maneuvers and manages to get up to the front with the rest of his gang, led by Pavlo.
And 104 makes it inside.
Shukhov rushes off to get some empty trays and steals one from somebody.
The person wasn't paying attention to it, so it's his loss, in Shukhov's mind.
Gopchik finds some trays too, and Pavlo is thrilled since he was standing in line waiting for trays like a loser.
Since they have trays, Gang 104 can get food.
Shukhov carries the trays to an empty table and sits himself near the soup bowls with the most good stuff in them, meaning a carrot or something and not just water.
Kildigs brings the bread over.
And now it's chow time.
While eating Shukhov spies a legendary zek, and takes the time to study him.
His number is Yu-81 and he's been in the camp since the Soviet State existed, so for decades.
His gang, 64, was the one that was sent out to the awful assignment that 104 avoided that day.
An old man, Yu-81 is very proud and sits very straight and eats politely.
Shukhov admires him.
After finishing his rocking meal, Shukhov heads over to Hut 7 to buy some tobacco from the Latvian salesman there.
Zeks aren't paid a money wage in the camp, but Shukhov earns money doing little side jobs, like sewing.
Shukhov goes inside Hut 7 and stealthily approaches the Latvian.
The Latvian shows him his tobacco and the two haggle and make a deal.
It's good quality and Shukhov is pleased.
Some people in the hut are complaining about Stalin, and Shukhov thinks that the one good thing about "special" camps is that everyone there has already been convicted of something like treason, so they can say all the treasonous and anti-Stalin things they want now.
Shukhov heads back to his hut, number nine.
Tsezar is freaking out with glee over his package, which contains delicious food.
Tsezar lets Shukhov keep his bread from dinner, since he has stuff like sausage to eat now.
Shukhov goes to lie down so he won't have to look enviously upon Tsezar's haul.
Packages aren't super fun though – if a zek gets a package they have to pass out bribes and kickbacks to all sorts of people, so it gets sort of stressful.
Shukhov hides his steel blade in his bunk.
The Estonians are chatting and Alyoshka is praying.
Fetyukov comes in bloody – he's been beaten up for licking out of bowls again in the mess hall.
Buynovsky comes over with some tea and Tsezar shares some of his package goodies with him. The two are friends apparently.
Tsezar borrows a little knife that Shukhov has to cut his food up, which is rude.
Shukhov passes one of the Estonians some tobacco, since he borrowed some from him earlier at the work site.
The Captain and Tsezar are acting like kids on Christmas.
But then a warder named Snub Nose comes in to get Buynovsky.
The foreman tries to delay him but it's no go, and poor Captain Buynovsky is headed off for a ten day stint in the hole for mouthing off that morning.
His gang wishes him luck.
Shukhov thinks he'll be lucky to get out with his health intact and he might die.
Then nightly roll call happens.
Tsezar was dumb and didn't put his stuff up in time. So he can now go outside with it and be laughed at and risk having it confiscated. Or he can leave it in the hut and risk having it stolen.
Shukhov takes pity on him and tells him how it's done: Tsezar will hang back saying he's sick and leave at the last minute to go outside. And Shukhov will run back in first and guard the food.
The zeks tumbles outside for a roll call count before bed.
Everyone is moving sluggishly and it's taking forever.
Finally roll call finishes and Shukhov gets inside quickly and successfully guards Tsezar's food.
Tsezar is super-thankful.
Shukhov hops up to his bunk and chats with Alyoshka about religion for a bit.
Alyoshka tries to explain what a spiritually cleansing experience being in jail is and how he's glad he's here.
Shukhov explains that he believes in God, but not heaven or hell since he's not sure men deserve either one.
Shukhov then ponders that maybe he doesn't want to be free himself and he's not sure if he'll ever be able to really go home, no matter how badly he wants to do so.
Then a second roll call happens, and everyone is mad.
They don't have to go outside this time at least.
Suddenly, Tsezar's hand pops up and he lays two biscuits, two sugar lumps, and a chunk of sausage on Shukhov's bunk. Shukhov thanks him and offers to hide the rest of his package up in his higher bunk during Roll Call: The Sequel.
Second rolls call ends finally, and Shukhov goes back to bed.
He gives Tsezar his bag back and covers himself up.
Then he passes a biscuit to Alyoshka, since Alyoshka is so nice that he never does anything for himself. Alyoshka smiles and thanks him kindly.
Shukhov eats his sausage bit and savors it.
As he drifts off to sleep, he thinks that he's had a pretty nice day since he got extra food, snuck in his blade, and avoided the hole.
The narrator then ends by telling us that this is one day of the 3,653 days of Shukhov's prison sentence.