One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich By Alexander Solzhenitsyn Summary and Analysis Ivan Reviews the Day

Ivan settles down for a few small moments of relaxation before the evening roll call and lights-out. He considers several ways that he can use the little piece of steel which he has smuggled in. Then he hides it in a safe place.

Fetyukov comes into the barracks crying. He has been beaten up by somebody, probably for scrounging, and although he dislikes the man, Ivan feels sorry for him because he is certain that Fetyukov will not survive the camps.

Caesar Markovich still has the contents of his package spread out on his bunk when he asks Ivan for his little illegal knife so that he can cut some meat. He doesn't share his food with Ivan, though; he shares his food with the Captain, the only man in the gang whom he considers his equal. This meal, however, is only a short reprieve for Buynovsky, who is led away shortly afterward to the punishment block.

When the signal for the evening roll call is given, Caesar does not know what to do with his package. It is certain that most of it will be stolen by a prisoner or a guard while he is outside in the lineup. In spite of the fact that Caesar has treated him condescendingly all through the day, Ivan feels sorry for him and shows him a way to protect his food.

After the tedious daily routine of the roll call, Ivan and the other prisoners return to their bunks, find a place to dry their boots, and settle down for the night. Ivan, however, does not feel like sleeping; he is too elated about the many good things which have happened to him during the day. He is grateful that he has not ended up in a cell like the Captain and that he can even enjoy sleeping on his sheetless, sawdust mattress.

Ivan's day, then, is coming to a close on an upbeat note. He has successfully braved all the difficulties of the work day. More than that, he has been able to acquire some small luxuries which will help him during future days. The little piece of steel will allow him to make additional money, he has bread left over for the next day, and he has enough tobacco for awhile. Best of all, he has acquired all these benefits without having to compromise his dignity. In this generous mood, he even feels sorry for the scavenger Fetyukov, whom he sees humiliated and crying.

Ivan's generosity and basic good nature is further shown by his offer to assist Caesar Markovich, who considers himself so much better than the simple peasant Ivan. It is that same "simple peasant" Ivan, however, who must come to his aid when the contents of Caesar's food package are threatened; knowledge of "art" and an upperclass background are of no practical use within the grim reality of the prison camp. Caesar's preoccupation with art may provide a temporary escape from prison life, but only Ivan's pragmatism and level-headedness can guarantee survival.

How close they all are to annihilation is demonstrated by the Captain's being led away to the prison block. And even at the last moment, he reveals that he is not as well prepared to survive as Ivan. If he could have stalled a little longer, he might have had at least a temporary reprieve. Instead, he responds immediately to his name being called.

The rest of the prisoners, while feeling sorry for him, are unable to provide him with more than trite encouragement — because, here, but for the grace of God, they all go.

The battle for survival even extends to the drying of the boots; it is every man for himself when they try to find a place close to the stove for their footwear; the unlucky ones will have to brave a day in damp boots and the danger of frostbite. It is bitter irony to hear Ivan thank God for his having had such a "good day" as he prepares for sleep, still giddy with joy over his several "successes" during the day.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

After serving his full eight-year (plus one month) sentence for "counterrevolutionary activity," Solzhenitsyn was released




Quiz