One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Rules and Order Theme
Rules and order are often not really connected in the prison camp, which is odd. There's an excess of rules in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich that no one really follows, like the restrictions on clothes or firewood. And there are rules that really can't be followed, like the rule that doesn't allow zeks to walk alone. To make matters worse, some of the rules get in the way of survival, so zeks are in a sense punished for trying to survive half the time.
Regardless of how dumb or illogical they are, rules dominate a zek's life. What makes these rules horrible is that zeks are punished arbitrarily, or randomly, for breaking them. There's no way to predict when or if a stupid rule will be enforced – it's a matter of luck half the time. Life in the camp is extremely unpredictable and illogical, which makes life extremely frustrating for a zek. The rules are there to punish people, not to create any sort of order in the camp, which is dominated by violence and barely controlled chaos most of the time.
Questions About Rules and Order
- There are lots of chaotic, violent scenes in the novel. How are these scenes significant to the overall narrative?
- Do the prison guards seem effective at maintaining order?
- Shukhov seems very self-disciplined. How are the rules he establishes and enforces for himself important, and what do they tell us about his character?
Chew on This
The camp rules don't really govern life for a prisoner. Rather, the necessity of survival and rules set-up among the prisoners themselves govern camp life.
Circumventing, or working around, the rules in the camp is the only way for a prisoner to survive.