Summary and Analysis Markovich's Package


After his close call with the authorities, Ivan hurries to the package room to see if he can do Caesar Markovich a worthwhile favor by standing in line for him. As he waits, he remembers that in the Ust-Izhma camp, he received packages a couple of times. Since not much was left by the time the parcels reached him (many of the contents of these packages disappear when they are opened for "inspection"), Ivan has since instructed his wife not to send him any more parcels, particularly since he knows that his family back home has nothing to spare. Still, he sometimes hopes that a package will arrive for him unexpectedly. During his wait, he also finds out that the authorities will make the prisoners work on Sunday of next week, news which depresses Ivan, although he had expected it.

When Caesar finally arrives, he virtually disregards Ivan and begins a conversation about Moscow art events with another prison intellectual who is waiting for a package. They use a language which sounds foreign to Ivan, who has nothing but contempt for Moscow intellectuals. He suppresses his dislike for Caesar's intellectual snobbery and asks him if he can bring him his supper, but Caesar, as Ivan had hoped, lets him have his portion as a reward for waiting in line.

This part of the story contrasts Ivan, a have-not, with the wealthier prisoners who are lucky enough to receive additional food in packages from home. Even the supposedly egalitarian Soviet system has not eliminated "privilege," and the camp is a reflection of society as a whole. Ivan does not begrudge anybody the packages — some of the people he likes receive them. That is, Kilgas and Gopchik receive packages, but Ivan has decided that his own family cannot spare any food from home. Therefore, he has considerately forbidden his wife to send him any parcels. He knows that he can supplement his food rations by skill and cunning, and he enjoys his little rewards, like the extra bowl of mush at midday, more than if he were receiving food which he would know that his family could not spare.

Solzhenitsyn again shows his contempt for Caesar and his fellow intellectuals. In the scene in which Caesar ignores Ivan, who is doing him a favor, and engages in a lengthy discussion of the latest theater productions in Moscow, we see the black irony of the situation. That is, in the midst of starving men, such a discussion of "theater productions" (which none of the men will ever see) is absurd. But neither Caesar nor his fellow art connoisseur feel any affinity with the other prisoners and their fate. They themselves are well fed and can debate the latest issue of the Moscow Evening News, while Ivan has to struggle to survive. Soon afterward, Caesar has to rely on Ivan's cunning and loyalty — and on his hunger — to keep possession of the food in his package. In this scene, however, Caesar condescendingly lets Ivan have his supper — a morsel for a beggar.

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