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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich


by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Theme of Power

It's no mistake that in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Gang 104 spends most of their day working at an incomplete power station. None of the members of Gang 104 have much power, especially when compared to the guards, with their whips and dogs, the wardens, etc. Futility, or the uselessness of action, is a running theme for the prisoners, as is injustice. Things aren't and never will be fair in the prison camp, and those with even the smallest amount of power often abuse it. But even those with some power have limits, as we see with Tsezar. He's wealthy enough to get packages and to bribe his way into a good work position, but he doesn't have the power (or knowledge) to avoid getting busted by the guards. He has to put himself in Shukhov's debt instead. We don't want to have a cheesy "the more you know" moment, but knowledge is definitely one of the main sources of power in the camps. Ultimately, though, the main power (the oppressive government) that controls everyone in the camps is distant, removed, and at times invisible.

Questions About Power

  1. Can Shukhov be described as a powerful figure? How does he have power and how does he lack power in the camps?
  2. How can power be defined in the camps? Is it a matter of physical strength, mental strength, etc?
  3. There seems to be a correlation, or a relationship, between power in the outside world and a lack of it in the camps. Former bosses like Fetyukov perform menial labor, for instance. Social hierarchies are flipped around. Which characters demonstrate this trend, and who disproves it?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Power is a constant and hierarchies, or ranks, in the camp are firmly fixed.

Power is always shifting in the camps and is highly fluid – anytime someone has the upper hand they can quickly lose it, and vice versa.

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