Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
We hear about how some "stoolies," or prisoners who act as informants for the guards and snitch on fellow prisoners, have gotten their throats cut. The throat cutting spree has definitely shaken things up at the camp, and we can see a gradual shift beginning in the balance of power. Shukhov comments on this in one scene:
Der turned pale and moved away from the ramp.
"Steady on, boys! Take it easy!" he said. [...]
Pavlo walked slowly down the plank with his shovel.
Oh, yes. Slitting a few throats had made a difference. Just three of them – and you wouldn't know it was the same camp. (616-620)
It's no mistake that the zeks seem to be fighting back and that things seem to be changing in the camp. This book is set in 1951, one year before Stalin's death, which would kick off a "thaw" where lots of prisoners were released from the gulags in the late 1950s. In a way this throat cutting spree is a sign that change is on the horizon, and it also acts a warning to people who enforce oppressive systems like the gulag. (Want to read more about the history of Stalin's regime and the gulag? Check out our "Intro" section.)