One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
What’s Up With the Title?
Some books have titles that leave you going "huh?" This is not one of those books. This book is about what the title says it's about. Now, you may think there is nothing to talk about here since this title is super literal and obvious. But we here at Shmoop say that there's always something to talk about with literature, so here we go.
Aside from being mega-obvious, this title clues us in to how the story is structured – just like 24 lets you know how that show is set up. That's an apt comparison, since this book follows Ivan Denisovich over the course of exactly one day, from the moment he wakes up till the moment he goes to bed. Why is this particular day worth narrating? Well, we're glad you asked. Really, it's never made entirely clear. You can take Ivan Denisovich's day as a really special and unusual one, making it book-worthy. But this day is also very typical and is a lot like all the other days Ivan has spent in prison. Ivan's day is both average and unusual, and this combo may be why we're hearing about it.
There's another interesting thing about this seemingly boring title. We learn our main character's name right from the get-go: Ivan Denisovich. But when you start reading the book you end up hearing a ton about this dude named Shukhov, which is actually Ivan's last-name. Why isn't the title One Day in the Life of Shukhov then? We're not really sure. But most of the guys in the prison camp refer to each other by their last names. It's sort of like if you're on a sports team and people call you by your last name almost as a kind of nickname. But your first name is your actual name. So, since this story is the personal story of Shukhov, the title refers to him by his first name and not any sort of nickname or more distanced form of address. What do you think? We're just theorizing here.