Summary and Analysis Ivan Speculates about Faith and Astronomy


Ivan and Klevshin are greeted by derision and curses from the men whom they have kept waiting in the cold. As the ritual of the counting of the prisoners begins, Ivan reveals in a conversation with the Captain that he is indeed a simple, superstitious Russian peasant: he believes that the moon which they see rising is a new one every month and that the old one is broken up into stars by God. New stars, according to Ivan, are constantly needed because the old ones fall from the sky. Yet, in spite of these rather pagan opinions, Ivan asserts that he believes in God.

The head count reveals that a man is missing; it turns out to be a prisoner from another gang who has fallen asleep in the repair shop, and the five hundred men whom he has kept waiting for half an hour hurl abuses at him and even assault him physically, because he has deprived them of precious minutes of comparative leisure back in camp. Finally, the column begins its long march home.

Here in this episode, the reality of preparing to go back to camp is an anticlimax to Ivan's frenzied happiness while he was at work. Slowly, reality begins to overtake him, and the battle for survival which had been suspended for a few hours must be fought again.

Ivan's simple-minded statements concerning the lunar orbit reveal his naive faith in a pantheistic God, and he is looked at with disbelief by the educated Captain. To Ivan, God is revealed in nature. Note in particular that the Captain's sneering about Ivan's ignorance does not disturb Ivan at all. As in his later discussion with Alyosha, Ivan reveals an instinctive faith which needs no sophisticated theological argument. He is full of old Russian peasant superstitions, and Solzhenitsyn considers such faith to be superior to an adherence to the superficial rules of the Russian Orthodox church or to Alyosha's impractical Baptist beliefs.

Solzhenitsyn's distrust of intellectuals is once again shown. Here, in the discussion between the Captain and Caesar Markovich about Potemkin, another film by Sergei Eisenstein, Ivan overhears the part of the discussion which deals with a graphic visual scene in the film, in which the sailors on the battleship Potemkin are fed rotten meat, crawling with maggots. While the two connoisseurs discuss the artistic merit of this scene and other scenes in the film, they conclude, as an afterthought, that the prisoners in their own camp would eat such meat if it were served to them, presumably without revolting, as the sailors on the Potemkin eventually did. The reality of prison camp life, however, is far harsher than the "artistic imagery" of a film or a book; this may be a comment by Solzhenitsyn about the fact that even a starkly realistic work like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is incapable of adequately describing the grim reality of an isolated, freezing cold Siberian prison camp.

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