Summary and Analysis
The Art of Bricklaying
After his story is finished, Tyurin orders his men to work, although the official signal has not yet been given. Ivan, Kilgas, and Klevshin begin to lay bricks on the second story of the unfinished power plant. Once he begins to work, Ivan does not focus on anything except the task in front of him. For these short hours, he is his own "boss," proud of his skills and eager to win the friendly competition he has with the people who are supplying him with bricks.
Ivan proves to be a master bricklayer, building his wall perfectly straight. Meanwhile, Fetyukov begins to wilt under the strain of work, while the Captain gets better and better, a fact which Ivan acknowledges with small, jocular compliments. Alyosha the Baptist also turns out to be a good worker, good-naturedly following the commands of the Captain. This period of concentrated and united work is interrupted by Der, the construction foreman.
The emphasis in this episode is primarily on work. On Tyurin's orders, the gang immediately begins their daily work — although no official command has been given. Once again, this demonstrates the power of the gang boss who, in Ivan's words, "fed you [and who] wouldn't make you work if you didn't have to." Most of the prisoners to whom the author attributes positive qualities (Ivan, Kilgas, Tyurin, Klevshin, and Alyosha) symbolically work on the upper level of the building, while Fetyukov and the others labor below.
Ivan really becomes immersed in his work. Work is his equivalent to Alyosha's religion and Caesar's art, and he is equally fanatic about it. Indeed, the whole description of Ivan at work can be compared to the description of a religious ritual, of a priest performing a sacred task, aided by some minor attendants. The whole gang seems reduced to providing Ivan with material for his work at the right time.
In stark contrast to Ivan's quasi-religious work ethic is the stance of the foreman who has come to check on the defective electrical hoist. He stands by and watches one of his underlings tinker with the motor. And in contrast also, Ivan thinks only of how much more efficiently he could perform his work if the hoist were repaired.