Study Guide

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Competition

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


But he was authorized to let off only two men in the morning. And there were already two names under the greenish glass on top of the desk. With a little line drawn under them. (109)

The little line under the two names really symbolizes how tough competition is in the camps. Here there are only two slots "open" in the hospital for hundreds of men who would welcome, and who probably need, medical care.

Some other lot, poorer and more stupid, would be shunted off to Sotsgorodok. It would be murder out there - twenty-seven below, with a mean wind blowing, no shelter, and no hope for a warm! (147)

It's important that Shukhov points out how another gang is going to suffer because his own gang got out of the bad work assignment. Competition is definitely brutal in the camps and if somebody wins something, somebody else gets seriously screwed over.

He knew from what the free workers said - drivers and bull-dozer operators on construction sites - that the straight and narrow was barred to ordinary people, but they didn't let it get them down, they took a roundabout way and survived somehow. (231)

It's interesting that the outside world really mirrors the camp world in a lot of ways. In both places, people have to fight hard to survive and often have to do it in very roundabout ways.

Their places were grabbed immediately. Men hovered around the stove as though it was a woman they wanted to get their hands on. (402)

This scene, and the simile used here, really demonstrates how eager and desperate the men are for something as simple as warmth by a stove. (A simile, just so you know, is a comparison that uses "like" or "as.") _QUOTE_END_ _THOUGHT_START_

He also managed to get back to the table and to do a quick count - yes, they were all there, the neighbors hadn't got around to pinching any, though there was nothing to stop them. (446)

Shukhov here demonstrates how fierce competition in the camp is and how alert a prisoner has to be at all times. Someone is always trying to steal from someone else.

But he had to hurry, so that Pavlo would see him finish and would offer him the second portion. And then there was Fetyukov, who had arrived with the Estonians and had spotted him swiping the two bowls, and was now eating on his feet across the table from Pavlo, ogling the gang's four unallotted portions. (459)

Shukhov's thoughts here reveal how stressful camp life is. Even while eating, Shukhov has to plan and worry and position himself, literally, to beat out another gang member.

(Shukhov had another reason for hurrying. They'd drawn only one plumb line from the tool store and he wanted to get hold of it before Kildigs.) (539)

Once again, Shukhov shows how competition happens even within a gang, which often operates like a family or at least a cooperative unit.

"Right, then!" Pavlo sprang up. A young man, with fresh blood in his veins. The camps hadn't knocked the stuffing out of him yet. [....] "If you're going to lay yourself, I'll make mortar. Let's see who gets most done." (543)

This is one of the very rare instances of friendly competition that we see in the book. Pavlo, young and energetic, is in many ways a foil for Buynovsky, who is also young and bold, but hasn't yet adapted to life in the camps.

But when the camp suddenly needed a bricklayer - Shukhov thought he might as well be one. If you can do two things with your hands, you'll soon pick up another ten. (597)

Shukhov's attitude here demonstrates how he's managed to stay ahead in the competitive world of the camps. He's very savvy and he always places himself in a position to do well. As a skilled worker, Shukhov gets a better food cut for supper, and he also helps to improve his mindset since he actually somewhat enjoys his work. It's better than hauling a wheelbarrow at any rate.

There's thieving on the site, there's thieving in the camp, and there was thieving before the food ever left the store. And not one of those thieves wields a pickax himself. You do that, and take what you're given. And move away from the serving hatch. It's dog eat dog here. (414-5)

Thieving, thieving everywhere. The sentence structure here is really interesting. The first section starts out with a lot of repetition ("thieving") and a longer sentence length. The final sentence is much shorter and blunter and helps to hammer the point about competition and unfairness home.

Whatever they'd been talking or thinking about was forgotten. The whole column had one thing and one thing only on its mind.

"Get ahead of Ten! Beat them to it!" (843-4)

This is one of the rare examples where a group competes together against another group; the bulk of the competition we see in the book is of an individual nature, which highlights how isolating and lonely camp life is.

Shukhov, behind him, slipped the words into his ear: "I'll come and get the tray, pal - I'm right behind you."

"That fellow over by the window's waiting for it, I promised him [...]"

"He can take a running jump - should've kept his eyes open."

They made a deal. (991-4)

Shukhov often does nice things for fellow gang members throughout his day, but he definitely has a ruthless streak and he has limited sympathy for prisoners who aren't competitive or aware.