Study Guide

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

His wife's dearest hope was that when he got home he would keep clear of the kolkhoz and take up dyeing himself. That way they could get out of the poverty she was struggling against, send their children to trade schools, and build themselves a new cottage in place of their old tumble-down place. (227)

Shukhov's wife is a really interesting character, though she never appears and we hear comparatively little about her. The fact that her future hopes hinge on Shukhov's return creates a lot of pathos for Shukhov's overall situation. Pathos is a literary device, and it's basically a way of saying that the language creates sympathy in the reader. For instance, the diction here – words like "struggling" and "tumble-down" – help us to feel sympathy for Shukhov's family.

Shukhov still had quite a bit of time to do - a winter, a summer, another winter, another summer (228)

The time Shukhov measures out here sounds deceptively short, which is interesting given that before his seasonal list he notes he has "quite a bit" of time left in the camps. Shukhov's future is largely a question mark and he often has trouble planning beyond the end of his sentence.

His fingers were wonderfully nimble, and his mind raced ahead, planning his next moves. (134)

This is one of the best characterizations of Shukhov in the whole novel. Shukhov is a lot like a chess player and he's very strategic in his thinking, always planning out his next "move."

In jail and in the camps Shukhov had lost the habit of scheming how he was going to feed his family from day to day or year to year. The bosses did all his thinking for him, and that somehow made life easier. But what would it be like when he got out? (230)

Shukhov underestimates himself here, to a point, since he's a master schemer in the camps. However, he only schemes for himself in the camps, and relearning the habit of thinking of others rather than competing against them is probably daunting, or scary. It's also really interesting that Shukhov describes camp life as somehow "easier" than life in the outside world. In a way it is simpler – everything in the camps boils down to life or death survival.

Only - would they ever let him go? Maybe they'd slap another ten on him, just for fun? (234)

Shukhov often wonders what "they," the powers that control everything, will do to him in the future. As with everything else in the camp world, even people's sentences are uncertain. There's no telling if they will be ten years or twenty.

His one dream now was to fall sick for two or three weeks. Not fatally, of course, and he didn't want an operation. Just sick enough to be put in the hospital. He could see himself lying there for three weeks without stirring (68)

Shukhov's dream is really telling about how awful life in the camps is. He basically just wants to sleep for an extended period. Considering this, it's really amazing that Shukhov is able to stay as alert as he does throughout the day.

Shukhov enjoyed it. He liked people pointing at him - see that man? He's nearly done his time - but he didn't let himself get excited about it [...] They could twist the lost any way they liked. When your ten years were up, they could say good, have another ten. Or pack you off to some godforsaken place of exile. (377)

It's interesting that Shukhov becomes something of a minor celebrity for nearing the end of his sentence. The idea of someone having a future outside of the camps is pretty novel, or new, for the people with twenty-five year sentences, which may as well be life sentences.

But not for the foremen. A work assigner rounds them up with shouts of "Foremen! To the PPS!"

To try on tomorrow's horse collar. (916-7)

This blunt statement of metaphor of Shukhov's helps to point out how exhausting and similar the days are in the camp. The work never stops.

For the moment that ladleful means more to him than freedom, more than his whole past life, more than whatever life is left to him. (912)

Life in the camps has a definite way of blotting out not only the past but also the future, so that the present becomes all-consuming. Here Shukhov's hunger dominates his thoughts.

That's what he'd decided, but whenever anybody in the gang or the hut got a parcel [...] he felt a pang - why isn't it for me? And although he had strictly forbidden his wife to send anything [...] he sometimes found himself expecting somebody to come running and say:

"Why don't you go and get it, Shukhov? There's a parcel for you."

Nobody came running. (926-8)

Aside from wishing for sleep, Shukhov's other wish is for a package, a piece of his home and his past essentially. The final sentence here really helps to create a lot of sympathy for Shukhov. It's a bit reminiscent of the final lines of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" as well, where the narrator talks of how the mermaids sing to each other, but not to him.

No Sunday off this week, they were being cheated out of Sunday again. [...] He'd expected it, all right, but hearing it nevertheless cut him to the quick. Who wouldn't be sorry for his precious Sunday rest? (932)

Shukhov definitely tries to remain cynical and practical in the camp, but he can't stop himself from hoping for things entirely, as we see here with the loss of his "Sunday rest."

The one thing he might want to ask God for was to let him go home.

But they wouldn't let him go home. (1200-1)

In a way, Shukhov's major wish is more about rewinding time than actually going home. The home Shukhov wants to go to probably doesn't really exist anymore, except in his memory.