In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the main character Ivan Denisovich Shukov is an inmate serving his eighth year in a Russian labor camp. Shukov had been sentenced to ten years and three days (the three days are make-up days to compensate for leap years) for supposedly being a Nazi spy (182). In reality, he had been imprisoned by the Germans and somehow managed to escape. In the eyes of the Soviets, those who did escape were considered Nazi spies; thus, Shukov was forced to admit that he was a spy in order to live (70).
Solzhenitsyn further describes Shukov’s traits as well as the characteristics of the people he comes in contact with on a daily basis in this novel. Ivan Denisovich Shukov is part of a work gang, who is referred to as Gang 104. In this work gang, Shukov associates with many men—including those whom he views positively as well as some whom he views negatively. Alyoshka the Baptist, Senka Klevshin, Andrei Prokofyevich Tyurin, Pavlo, Jan Kildigs, Tsezar Markovich, Gopchik and Captain Buynovsky are all whom Shukov views positively and are either part of Gang 104 or are somehow associated with the work gang.
Although there are many of whom Shukov views positively, there is also one in particular whom he views negatively, Fetyukov. These men all have specific human qualities that may help or harm them in their chances of survival in the labor camps. Alyoshka the Baptist and Senka Klevshin are two of whom Shukov views positively, but in different ways. They are both quiet men who have been sentenced for 25 years in the labor camps, but for different reasons. Alyoshka was sentenced just for being a Baptist and Klevshin was sentenced because he had been with the Americans for a mere two days (45,126).
Shukov views Alyoshka in a positive manner because he is an extremely optimistic and generous person despite his surroundings. He does favors for everyone and does whatever asked of him without complaint (109). Alyoshka sees prison as a good thing since he claims that he has time to focus on and think about his soul. These positive thoughts will help Alyoshka’s chances in prison because he will be extremely resilient to any harsh conditions. Klevshin is also favored by Shukov because of the loyalty he shows to his fellow workmates.
His loyalty to Shukov was notable especially when he purposely ran slowly in order for Shukov to catch up to him leaving the Power Station work site (114). Shukov knew that Klevshin would rather be in trouble along with Shukov instead of letting him get punished on his own (114). This kind of loyalty will help Klevshin in camp life because he will gain a considerable amount of respect from other workmates. Andrei Prokofyevich Tyurin and Pavlo are two foremen of Gang 104—both whom Shukov views positively and respects.
The foremen are both strict and caring people whom have gained much respect from the inmates they watch over. Tyurin is described as a fierce and smart leader who saw that the men were well fed and had good rations (46). These foremen’s traits keep the men in Gang 104 better off than the rest and inspire them to work harder for their gang. Two others whom Shukov respect are Jan Kildigs and Tsezar Markovich. These men are both rich and receive bimonthly parcels.
Jan Kildigs is a Latvian bricklayer who is loved for his sense of humor (56). Shukov respected Kildigs because he worked with pride—he did not like to rush his work and enjoyed taking his time to do things right (109). Tsezar was highly regarded by Shukov because of his character—he was respectful and trustworthy (48). The two men have a high chance of survival in the labor camps because they gave all the right people a handout and bribery worked wonders in the camp (48). Gopchik and Captain Buynovsky were also favored by Shukov.
Gopchik was only about sixteen years old and was jailed for bringing milk to Ukrainian guerillas (63). He was very crafty and Shukov felt that he had potential to be a good camp dweller (149). Gopchik was smart and Shukov thought highly of him, even saying that he has potential to have a good job in the camp, such as a bread cutter (150). Gopchik’s craftiness would give him a high chance of survival as compared to others. One of the “others” would be Captain Buynovsky, who seems to be in a state of denial.
He is a proud man who as an ex-Captain who according to Shukov, had no idea how to look after himself. However, he is diligent and works hard—which Shukov admires him for. Fetyukov, on the other hand, is a scavenger whom Shukov views negatively. Fetyukov was a leech and beggar who did everything in his power for extra food and cigarette butts (31). Many, including Shukov, pitied him at times but also despised his actions. Fetyukov was lazy and made work easier for himself by cheating.
For example, while carrying mortar, he would purposely splash some out of his handbarrow so that it would be lighter to carry (101). Fetyukov further degraded himself by begged for food which at times backfired. He was greedy and scrounged for extra bread or other types of food and was even beaten by the Guards for licking bowls in the mess hall (163). In Shukov’s eyes, people like Fetyukov would only survive by relying on others’ pity and generosity towards him. Shukov also found ways to benefit himself, but he did so with dignity and pride, unlike Fetyukov.
Instead of begging for tobacco or food, Shukov would work for his share or discretely hint that he wanted something regardless of how much he actually wanted it. For example, when it came to tobacco, Shukov would merely just stand next to someone smoking, and without saying anything, the smoker would ask if he wanted the butt of his cigarette (26). Shukov also worked for his tobacco by making slippers from rags or patching jerkins (156). He also haggled his way into getting a larger share of tobacco from those selling it (158).
Shukov not only worked for his tobacco, but also for his food. He would volunteer to wait in line for people in hope that they will give him their share of food, in which most of the time, they did (142). Ivan Denisovich Shukov was a proud man who was competitive and meticulous in his work ethics. The best example of his pride and competitiveness would be when he says that “he’d feel pretty sore if others in the village got ahead of him (44). ” Shukov was a skilled carpenter who was proud of his work and enjoyed doing things correctly.
He would correct others when they were doing something wrong, such as cutting tarred paper incorrectly (64). He also showed how meticulous he was by straightening others’ work and by carefully selecting his own cinder blocks to fit into spaces perfectly (110). Shukov worked quickly, was a very hard worker and stayed behind to finish his and others’ jobs because he felt that he could not let anyone’s work go to waste (113). Ivan Denisovich Shukov acquainted himself with many people who helped him discover himself and his limits when it came to survival.
He did not want to degrade himself by begging like Fetyukov had done but he instead found a way to benefit himself by not even asking directly. He discovered that regardless of his tough situations, he still found himself quite optimistic and proud of his work. Those whom he views positively and respected became a type of role model for him and he learned from them. He also learned from those whom he thought of negatively in such a way that he would never stoop down to their level. He was a proud person and kept his pride throughout his time at the labor camp.