Ivan Denisovich returns to his barracks and waits for the morning roll call along with the rest of his work gang. Pavlo, the assistant gang boss, hands him his bread ration, which Ivan immediately realizes is half an ounce short of the regulation one-pound loaf of bread. He decides to take half of it with him to the worksite; the other half he hides in the sawdust of his mattress, then he sews up the hole.
While the prisoners wait to be frisked in the freezing cold yard, Ivan makes his way to one of the artist-prisoners to have the faded numbers on his prison uniform repainted. When he returns to his gang, Ivan notices that one of the fellows in his gang, Caesar Markovich, is smoking a cigarette, and Ivan is reminded of his own lack of tobacco. Fetyukov, the scrounger, begs Caesar for "one little drag," but Ivan does not beg; he stands by silently. Significantly, it is Ivan who is rewarded; he receives the rest of the cigarette.
Gang 104, Ivan's gang, is about to arrive at "the friskers," just as Lieutenant Volkovoy, the feared disciplinary officer, orders the guards to search the prisoners. Camp rules forbid wearing any extra clothing or carrying anything out of camp; this law exists in order to thwart prisoners from wearing civilian clothes under their camp uniforms and carrying food out with them, hoping to escape. Because of this rule, the inmates have to undo their coats — even in freezing weather.
Captain Buynovsky, a former Navy officer and a newcomer to the camp, is caught with a non-regulation jersey on and is forced to take it off. He protests that this procedure violates the Soviet criminal code, and he accuses the guards of not being true Soviet people, as well as being "bad" Communists. This brings him a sentence of ten days in solitary confinement, a punishment which very few prisoners survive.
After repeated body counts (the guards are personally responsible for every single prisoner and will be sentenced to take a missing prisoner's place themselves), the prisoners finally begin their march to the different worksites, heavily guarded by armed guards and dogs. As Ivan marches along, he tries to stop himself from thinking about his aches and his hunger, and he begins to daydream about his wife and the village which he comes from.
If we look back at the beginning of this episode, we should focus first on Ivan's return to his barracks. Note that when he receives his bread ration, he is immediately aware that half an ounce is missing. Every food ration, we learn, is short. Why? Because the authorities and trustees charged with food distribution always save some for themselves in order to survive a little better. However, Ivan realistically admits to himself that the people who cut up the bread would not last long if they gave every prisoner honest rations. Food, then, is the most important item in the prisoners' battle for survival.
Ivan keeps one hand on his piece of bread, even while he takes his boots off with the other hand. Any edible item left unattended will be stolen immediately — if not by a prisoner, then surely by an orderly or a guard. Ivan accepts this condition as a reality. There are no misgivings; Ivan simply takes the appropriate precautions. Note, however, that he is not afraid that Alyosha the Baptist, who has the bunk next to him, will steal from him. He knows that the man's religious beliefs won't allow him to become a thief. Later in the story, in one of the key episodes of the novel, Ivan and Alyosha will have a serious discussion about religion and the meaning of life.
After it becomes official that Tyurin, Ivan's gang boss, has successfully bribed the officials into letting Gang 104 keep their former work assignment, Ivan has his prison uniform number repainted. The uniform numbers are mentioned over and over; together with the animal terminology which is applied to the prisoners, the numbers serve to emphasize the dehumanizing conditions in the camp. The counting and recounting of the prisoners before they leave the camp is on a literal level — that is, it is standard precautionary procedure. On a symbolic level, however, the counting and recounting signify the existence of the prisoners not as human beings, but as digits.
The cigarette butt episode continues and reinforces the theme of Ivan's code. Ivan wants the cigarette as badly as Fetyukov does, but he does not demean himself, as the latter does. Fetyukov literally drools and begs for the butt. Caesar Markovich, an upper-class intellectual who feels no great allegiance to any of his fellow prisoners, finally gives Ivan the cigarette butt, but he does so because he dislikes Fetyukov more than he likes Ivan. Ivan, however, is pleased to have bested the scrounger. It is a vindication for the code which he learned from his former gang boss, Kuzyomin.
The frisking episode demonstrates the senseless, cruel camp rules. To make the prisoners take off extra underclothing in the freezing cold is absurd since it diminishes their effectiveness at work.
Captain Buynovsky is a former Navy officer who has only recently been sent to this "special" camp. He is still used to giving commands and has not understood that survival in a prison camp is not possible by insisting on "rules and regulations." His protest that Lieutenant Volkovoy's frisking orders are a violation of the Soviet Criminal Code is sincere but nonsensical in view of the provisions of that same Criminal Code which sent him to this camp in the first place. Volkovoy (his name means "wolf" in Russian) can tolerate an appeal to legality, but he cannot stand being accused of being a "bad" Communist.
The Captain's quixotic protest nets him ten days of solitary confinement, a punishment that he has little chance of surviving. Ivan is better prepared to survive the brutal rigors of the camp. He realizes that vocal or physical protest is self-defeating, and thus, he lets more powerful people, like Tyurin and Pavlo, look out for his rights.
Ivan also realizes that there are moral limits to the struggle for survival. He believes that when one acts in a demeaning way in order to receive favors (whether it's for a cigarette butt or a place on the sicklist, or a reprieve from punishment), it leads to a loss of self-respect and, eventually, to losing the will to live. Ivan's healthy sense of self-preservation, which is not necessarily always based on being considerate and mild-mannered, refuses to adopt demeaning behavior, and, as a result, Ivan has gained a measure of respect from his fellow prisoners. By adhering to his own "code" of behavior, Ivan has kept himself alive for eight years.