Reflecting on the run-in with Der, Ivan concludes that machines cannot be trusted, because they always tend to break down. Meanwhile, the work is proceeding fast, and there is more mortar left than the gang can reasonably use before their return to camp. The other gangs at the worksite have already handed in their tools and are getting ready for their return, but Ivan is unwilling to quit. He works furiously, trying to use up the rest of the bricks and the mortar, and his enthusiasm infects his comrades. Finally, Tyurin has to order Ivan's trowel to be taken away from him, but Ivan continues to work with his own trowel, one which he had stashed away secretly.
The rest of the prisoners are ready to be counted for the return march, but Ivan will still not quit. Finally, after taking one last satisfied look at his work, he hides his trowel and runs to the roll call.
This episode is the climax of the story. Ivan's furious absorption in his work makes him virtually a free man for a few hours. He is reluctant to let go of this sense of freedom and individuality, and his enthusiasm is shared by some of his fellow prisoners for awhile. But they do not feel Ivan's deep, unique sense of personal fulfillment. When it is time to quit, they are pulled back into the grim reality of prison life much sooner than Ivan, who wants to finish his work properly, "even if the guards would set their dogs on him." Ivan's work reaffirms his worth as a human being in spite of the inhuman conditions under which he has to live. As he lovingly takes a last look at the straight lines of "his" wall, he is reassured that "his hands were still good for something."