Study Guide

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Family

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


After nineteen years inside, the foreman wouldn't hustle his men out a minute too early. When he said "Out," you knew there was nothing else for it. (140)

We hear many times throughout the book how the foreman of Gang 104 is a really good foreman. He's definitely like the father-figure of the gang.

Nowadays you had more to say to Kildigs, the Latvian, than to the folks at home.
They wrote twice a year as well, and there was no way in which he could understand how things were with them. (224-5)

Shukhov's odd connection/disconnection with his home is a running theme in the book. He definitely still has ties to his home and longs for it, but his life in the camp has also created a huge distance between him and his home. His gang is more like family now than his own family.

Outwardly, the gang all looked the same, all wearing identical black jackets with identical number patches, but underneath there were big differences. You'd never get Buynovsky to sit watching a bowl, and there were jobs that Shukhov left to those beneath him. (87)

As within any family, there are roles that people play, and a sort of hierarchy at work. Shukhov's work gang is no different in that respect, though the hierarchy and the competition are much more pronounced than in the average Leave it to Beaver clan.

Your foreman matters more than anything else in a prison camp: a good one gives you a new lease on life, a bad one can land you six feet under. (240)

The foremen are almost more powerful than the guards in some ways; a foreman's mismanagement means the gang won't eat or will get bad work assignments. So the foremen is really like the "breadwinner" of the gang.

The two Estonians sat like two brothers on a low concrete slab, sharing half a cigarette in a holder. [...] They clung together as though neither would have air enough to breathe without the other. [...] On the march, on work parade, or going to bed at night, they never stopped talking to each other in their slow, quiet way. Yet they weren't brothers at all - they'd met for the first time in Gang 104. (260)

Life in the prison camp may be awful, but the Estonians show that something decent came out of it. Their brother-like relationship stands in contrast to all the violence, backstabbing, and ruthlessness we see from many of the other prisoners.

Fetyukov had three children on the outside, but when he was jailed they'd all turned their backs on him, and his wife had married somebody else, so he got no help from anywhere. (262)

Though Fetyukov is largely contemptible, he merits some sympathy from Shukhov. The fact that Fetyukov's family abandoned him is also an example of some class commentary. As a former rich man, Fetyukov's family probably had some good social standing that they wanted to maintain. So they ditched their embarrassing relative who is in jail.

Either everybody gets a bonus or else they all die together. (315)

Forcing the gangs to "sink or swim" together really causes a lot of the problems in the camp, but it also helps the gangs to cooperate sometimes and probably helps to foster a family-like environment.

His trowel was hidden not far away. The other men in the gang were his friends, but they could easily take it and leave him another. (318)

The family environment of the gang only goes so far, though. Of course, the gang members could be likened to squabbling siblings fighting over clothes/computer time/the car.

Stared at the fire, huddled together in the half dark. Like a big family. That's what a work gang is - a family. (512)

It's interesting that this scene occurs around a fire, which is sort of a romantic/homey image. It almost seems like seeing the fire prompts Shukhov to think of the gang as a big family.

I saw some young riffraf sitting around a tar boiler. I sat down by them and said, "Listen [...] take my little brother as an apprentice, teach him how to live!" They took him [...] I now wish I'd joined the band of thieves myself."

"And you never saw your brother again?" the captain asked.

Tyurin yawned. "No, I never did." (528-30)

Tyurin's family story really demonstrates how many families were broken apart in Soviet Russia, and especially by the gulag system.

Tsezar came back. Shukhov lowered the bag to him.

Now Alyoshka was back. He had no sense at all, Alyoshka, never earned a thing, but did favors for everybody.

"Here you are, Alyoshka!" Shukhov handed him one biscuit.

Alyoshka was all smiles. "Thank you! You won't have any for yourself!"

"Eat it!" (1222-5)

Shukhov's act of kindness towards Alyoshka is a bit like an older sibling looking out for a younger one. For all the cutthroat competition, Gang 104 still has their kind and even affectionate moments.