Summary and Analysis
Foreman Der Is Put to Shame
Der, the construction foreman, who wants to be promoted to engineer, is enraged about the theft of the roofing-felt which Ivan and Kilgas used earlier in the day to cover the windows of the generator room so that the gang and the mortar would be protected from the freezing wind. He threatens Tyurin with an additional sentence for condoning the theft, but the gang boss is not afraid. He warns Der that he will lose his life if he utters a word about the roofing-felt. The rest of the gang, including Ivan Denisovich, is ready to use physical violence to protect their boss. Der becomes afraid and backs down, and as he leaves, Tyurin berates him about the non-functioning hoist and demands that the gang be given better work rates for having to carry the mortar and the bricks to the second story by hand. As the foreman leaves, he weakly criticizes Ivan's bricklaying, but he is cleverly repudiated by Ivan, continuing to shout for more mortar.
Der, the focus of this episode, is a prisoner himself; he was once, however, an official in a government ministry, and he considers himself superior to the rest of the prisoners, even the gang bosses. He has no practical knowledge of the work which he is supervising, and so he tries to improve his position by tyrannizing the inmates. Ivan comments that one should be able to build a house with one's own hands before one hopes to be called an engineer.
Again, Solzhenitsyn contrasts the educated but impractical bureaucrat with the uneducated but handy workman, and he clearly takes the side of the simple man. The former bureaucrat proves as useless as his successors in the Soviet government bureaucracy. The burden of keeping the country going is on the shoulders of peasants, tradesmen, and craftsmen like Ivan, who contemplates that he is, by trade, a carpenter, and yet he can (and easily does) learn a dozen more practical trades, if necessary. In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and in many of his subsequent works, Solzhenitsyn shows his deep distrust of intellectuals and bureaucrats; he indicates that any hope for a regeneration of Russia will have to be found within the common, rural Russian population.