Ivan Denisovich Shukhov Prisoner S-854, who is the protagonist and focal point of the novel. He has been sentenced to ten years of hard labor and has spent the past eight years in a number of prison labor camps. Given above is his full name, which consists of his first name (Ivan), his patronymic (Denisovich=son of Denis), and his last name (Shukhov). His last name is reserved for use by the bureaucracy, and in the novel, only the prison authorities apply it to the main character. Personal acquaintances would use the first name, plus the patronymic (Ivan Denisovich), as the title of the book suggests, and very good friends might use the first name, or a diminutive of it — that is, Ivan or Vanya.
Tyurin The boss of Ivan's "gang," or work brigade. A big, tough man who has already spent nineteen years in prison camps and who knows all the rules and all the ruses. He manages to get the best quotas and work assignments for his men. He began to take an interest in Ivan during their days in the camp at Ust-Izhma. Tyurin is not afraid to stand up to Der, the foreman.
Alyosha the Baptist A mild-mannered prisoner in Ivan's gang who has been sent to the camp for his religious beliefs. He considers his prison term a blessing because it affords him time to pray and to think about his soul. His religiously oriented code of ethics contrasts with Ivan's existential code of behavior.
Captain Buynovsky Prisoner S-311 has been in the camp only three months and still has much to learn if he is to survive. Sentenced to twenty-five years of hard labor for illegal contacts with the enemy, he is, nevertheless, a faithful Communist and naively believes in Soviet law.
Caesar Markovich A rich prisoner and a former film director whose packages provide the work gang with a vital means of bribing themselves into better work assignments. He is an intellectual who feels no common bond between himself and his fellow inmates.
Prisoner Y-81 An anonymous prisoner whom Ivan admires because of his dignified, stoic behavior; he serves as a model for the existential behavioral code which Ivan is trying to live by.
Fetyukov Once a supervisor in an office, he has chosen scrounging (scavenging) as his method for best surviving the work camps. Ivan considers Fetyukov's behavior debasing and counterproductive in the long-term struggle for survival.
Kuzyomin Ivan's first gang boss in 1943. He took it upon himself to teach Ivan the methods necessary to survive his ten-year sentence by formulating his "Law of the jungle."
Pavlo The assistant gang boss who carries out Tyurin's orders in an impartial and impersonal way.
Ivan Kilgas A Latvian bricklayer in Ivan's gang; a good worker who respects Ivan for his work ethic. He looks healthy and well-fed since he gets two packages a month from home.
Gopchik A young prisoner from the Ukraine in whom Ivan takes a fatherly interest.
The Two Estonians Two prisoners strongly bonded by their common fate as members of an annexed nation. They share everything equally and are inseparable.
Senka Klevshin A deaf member of Ivan's gang who was an inmate in the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald; he led an underground movement there and was cruelly tortured. On his return to Russia, he was sentenced to hard labor for "contacts with the enemy" — in other words: treason.
Nikolay Semyonovich Vdovushkin The young medic in the prison hospital without any background or experience in medicine. He has been chosen for this task by the prison doctor who fancies himself a patron of the arts and wants to give the young poet "a chance to write." Vdovushkin is generally self-centered and has little sympathy for his fellow prisoners.
Stepan Grigoryevich The new prison doctor who has established bureaucratic methods for determining who is sick and who is healthy. He believes in work as the best medicine for sick prisoners. Only two prisoners per day are allowed to be ill.
Der (Prisoner B-731) The sadistic foreman at the construction site. He is reputed to have once worked in a high post in Moscow and is now trying to rise to the position of an engineer in the camp. Without any knowledge of bricklaying, he criticizes Ivan's conscientious work.
Lieutenant Volkovoy The officer in charge of prison discipline. He has only recently stopped lashing prisoners with his whip. His name is derived from the Russian word for "wolf." He forces the prisoners to give up extra articles of clothing before they march to the construction site in subfreezing weather.
The Thin Tartar A cruel prison guard.
Big Ivan An easygoing, compassionate guard.
Clubfoot A mess-hall orderly; an "invalid" criminal.
Shkuropatenko Prisoner B-219; a worksite guard.
It should be mentioned that, contrary to the conventional treatment in prison fiction or concentration camp fiction, the Camp Commandant is mentioned only briefly. He never makes a personal appearance.