Study Guide

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Principles

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


Next, he removed his cap from his shaven head - however cold it was, he wouldn't let himself eat with his cap on (85)

This detail about the cap crops up multiple times in the book and starts acting like a sort of character barometer, or measurement. Characters who remove their caps while eating have both self-respect and good survival skills. Pavlo, Tyurin, Shukhov, and Yu-81 all fit in this category.

Right then he seemed to yearn for that [cigarette] butt more than for freedom itself, but he wouldn't lower himself like Fetyukov, wouldn't look at Tsezar's mouth. (162)

Shukhov definitely has maintained some standards and pride in the camp, unlike Fetyukov, who seems to constantly debase himself. Shukhov's pride isn't often dangerous, though, unlike Buynovsky, who is far too stubborn.

Shukhov had been knocking around for forty years, he'd lost half his teeth and was going bald, but he'd never given or taken a bribe outside and hadn't picked up the habit in the camps. (232)

Again Shukhov's honorable nature is mentioned, but it's important to note that it's tied to his past. We get a hint here that Shukhov hasn't completely transformed as a person in the camps and that he was moral in the outside world as well. Shukhov has transformed physically, as the first sentence demonstrates, however the "but" in the sentence emphasizes how Shukhov has maintained his character.

Easy money had no weight: you didn't feel you'd earned it. What you get for a song you won't have for long, the old folks used to say, and they were right. (233)

Shukhov's work ethic is one of the most important aspects of his character, and we get an early hint of how he approaches work before we get to the actual work day.

The scavenger gave a nasty little sn***** - half his teeth were missing - and said: "Just you wait, Captain, when you've been inside eight years, you'll be doing the same yourself."

True enough, in its time the camp had seen off prouder people than Buynovsky. (265-6)

This idea of pride is an important one in the text. We see lots of different kinds of pride. Some pride is a good thing, but too much pride and stubbornness can be dangerous, as Buynovsky reveals.

"People are getting their throats cut in bed. And he says it's more peaceful!"

Pavlo raised a threatening finger at Fetyukov. "Stoolies, not people!" (393-4)

We get a couple of hints of the prisoners' moral code in the book, but this is the most definite statement. Pavlo considers good prisoners "people," implying that snitches and guards are not. Shukhov agrees with this sentiment – when he is mopping the floor he mentions good work should only be done for "human beings." (Check out that Quote in the "Rules and Order" quote section.)

Pavlo tantalized him a bit longer while he finished his gruel, licked his spoon clean (but not the bowl), put it away safely, and crossed himself. (463)

Again, the idea of licking out bowls pops up. This time we see that Pavlo isn't in danger of totally falling apart in the camp. Furthermore, Pavlo shows a hint of his morals here when he crosses himself. A lot of people in the camp fail to maintain their religious beliefs, so it's notable that Pavlo appears to do so.

He worked fast and skillfully, but without thinking about it. His mind and his eyes were studying the wall, the facade of the Power Station, two cinder blocks thick, as it showed from under the ice. Whoever had been laying there before was either a bungler or a slacker. Shukhov would get to know every inch of that wall as if he owned it. (538)

Even though he is being used as slave labor, Shukhov still works hard and works well. He takes pride in his abilities and his work, and he seems genuinely miffed, or displeased, at the "slacker" who worked on the wall before him. In a way, Shukhov's work ethic lets him "own" his work, and fight back against his enslavement, which tries to take everything from him.

He and the other Baptists spent their Sundays whispering to each other. Life in the camp was like water off a duck's back to them. They'd been lumbered with twenty-five years apiece just for being Baptists. Fancy thinking that would cure them! (236)

It appears that Alyoshka isn't alone in his religious zeal and his attitude towards camp life. His fellow Baptists also fight back using their religious beliefs and dedication.

But even after eight years on general duties he was no scrounger, and as time went by, he was more and more determined not to be. (1066)

This one sentence may be at the very heart of Shukhov's character. His refusal to become a "scrounger" really sums up who he is as a person.

"I'm quite ready to believe in God. But I just don't believe in heaven or hell. Why do you think everybody deserves either heaven or hell? What sort of idiots do you take us for? That's what I don't like." (1195)

We get practically no philosophical statements from Shukhov in the book; his actions generally do more to reveal his beliefs. It's really interesting that Shukhov doesn't think men deserve either heaven or hell. It would stand to reason that he'd want the prison guards to go to hell, at least. But his religious beliefs reveal the impact of camp life on him: life in the camp is futile, things happen regardless, and everyone is morally compromised to some degree.