Study Guide

Alyoshka the Baptist in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Alyoshka the Baptist

Like Fetyukov, Alyoshka has a title that describes him: the Baptist. Alyoshka is defined almost completely by his religious beliefs. He's one of the flattest characters in the book. He even borders on being a caricature at times, almost too good to be true. In fact, we don't know anything else about him aside from the fact that he's a devout Baptist and is super nice. But Alyoshka is notable for being the only character in the book defined by his religious beliefs. So how is this important?

Well, Alyoshka gives us a very different view of life in prison, which contrasts to everyone else's view in Gang 104. Alyoshka actually likes being in jail.

Alyoshka was horrified. "That's just the sort of thing you shouldn't pray for! What good is freedom to you? If you're free your faith will soon be choked by thorns! Be glad you're in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul. [...]

Shukhov stared at the ceiling and said nothing. He no longer knew whether he wanted to be free or not
. (1198-1199)

For Alyoshka, jail offers a sort of spiritual cleansing. He definitely has a strong ascetic streak, which basically means that he has a very strict view of religious faith that emphasizes suffering as a good thing. But his views on the positives of jail also help Shukhov to question his own deep-seeded desires. Though it's counterintuitive, Shukhov isn't entirely sure if he wants freedom anymore. There's something almost safe, or at least normal, about jail at this point, and Alyoshka's pro-jail spiel helps Shukhov to acknowledge this.

Prison has a definite purpose for Alyoshka, and his firm since of purpose and his religious conviction may help him survive. He's definitely mentally prepared to stay in jail. But Alyoshka's moral beliefs may also cause him some serious problems. He's extremely nice and mild mannered, which isn't the smartest way to be in a cutthroat gulag.

Alyoshka smiled humbly. "We can go faster if you like. Whatever you say."

They trudged down the ramp.

A meek fellow like that is a treasure to his gang
. (586-587)

On the one hand, Alyoshka is a great person to have in the gang since he helps everyone else. But in terms of his own survival, his attitude is potentially dangerous.

The hut orderly shot down the steps, hurled himself at them, cursing and thumping backs.

He took care which backs he thumped, though. Only the meek were lambasted
. (1156-1157)

In the world of the camp, the "meek" are to prime targets for punishment, violence, injustice. This means that Alyoshka is constantly in danger due to his own "meek" attitude. The meek may inherit the earth in the Bible, but the only thing they seem to inherit in the camps is a gigantic "kick me" sign on their backs. This is why Shukhov gives Alyoshka a biscuit at the end of the book after all; Alyoshka has no idea how to look after himself, physically at least.

Through Alyoshka's spiritual beliefs, we see that there are multiple ways of surviving in the camp. And for Alyoshka, his mental and spiritual survival may be more important than what happens to him physically.