Study Guide

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Time

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


The hammer banged reveille on the rail outside camp HQ at five o'clock as always. Time to get up. (1)

The idea of "as always" acts as a constant undercurrent to Shukhov's entire day and it really helps to bring the entire book full circle when it's considered in context with the book's final lines on how many thousands of days Shukhov has in his prison sentence. His days in prison are literally "as always."

Shukhov never overslept. He was always up at the call. That way he had an hour and a half all to himself before work parade - time for a man who knew his way around to earn a bit on the side. (4)

We learn a lot about Shukhov's character here, particularly how disciplined he is and how he carefully manages and covets his time. We also learn about how valuable time is in the camps, since there's so little free time available.

A convict's thoughts are no freer than he is: they come back to the same place, worry over the same thing continually. (219)

Life in the camps is almost suffocating in many ways and zeks are imprisoned both physically and mentally. The diction here, the word "continually" especially, help us to see how the zeks are forced to fight the same battles day after day, as if they were on some sort of perpetual treadmill just running in place.

Apart from sleep an old lag can call his life his own only for ten minutes at breakfast time, five at lunchtime, and five more at suppertime. (86)

This statement is actually rather ironic since it is later proven false; throughout his day Shukhov worries through all his meals about how to score more food. Shukhov's mind never stops working or planning.

The sick bay was in the most out-of-the-way corner of the camp, and no sound whatsoever reached it: there was not even the ticking of a clock - prisoners were not allowed clocks. The big boys tell the time for them. (112)

The fact that zeks aren't allowed clocks is hugely important, and acts as a symbol for the type of overpowering control that the guards have. Prisoners can't even call time their own in the camps.

A zek's day is a long one, though, and he can find time for everything. (248)

Time is a bit of a paradox, or a contradiction, in the camps. Prisoners have no time of their own and their time is eaten up in worry over matters of survival. But at the same time, pun not intended there, the prisoners' days are horribly long. There's never enough time and there's also too much of it. So maybe it comes down to different types of time here – personal time, work time, etc.

Amazing how time flew when you were working. He'd often noticed that days in the camp rolled by before you knew it. Yet your sentence stood still, the time you had to serve never got any less. (355)

Shukhov really gets at the heart of the time conundrum, or question, here when he notes that the days in the camp just keep piling up but the end of it all never approaches – like that never-ending first period class that you hate which crops up every morning like a bad penny. You know the one.

When you're flat on your face there's no time to wonder how you got in and when you'll get out. (388)

This is a really powerful image for how downtrodden the prisoners are in the camp. There's no time for anything but survival.

The whole crowd, Shukhov as well, were furious. What sort of rotten creep, louse, s***, swine, murdering bastard was he? The sky was dark, what light there was must be coming from the moon, the frost was hardening for the night, and the mangy cur was missing! Hadn't the s*** had his fill of work? Wasn't the official working day, eleven hours of it from dawn to dusk, long enough for him? (761)

Stylistically, this is a great example of stream-of-consciousness, which is where we hear Shukhov's thoughts reflected in the general narrative itself. We don't have quote marks to signal it, but the furious language and the thoughts about all the wasted time indicate that this is coming from Shukhov himself.

Well, it was no joke - he'd robbed more than five hundred men of more than half and hour of their time. (784)

The diction here is interesting – time can be "robbed" or stolen in the camps, and time itself is a precious possession for the prisoners.

Ten days! Ten days in that cell block, if they were strict about it and made you sit out the whole stint, meant your health was ruined for life. It meant tuberculosis and the rest of your days in the hospital. (1126)

Though the camp sentences and the days in camp seem almost impossibly long, it's interesting that we get a contrasting picture here, with the idea that a prisoner's health can be totally ruined after just ten days.

Just one of the 3,653 days of his sentence, from bell to bell. (1232)

The final sentences of the book really help to put Shukhov's story in perspective; it's really hard to fathom, or understand, exactly how many stressful and demoralizing days Shukhov has to spend in the camps.