Sunday, August 31, 2014

Line Illuminator - Thiago Rossi

Book: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Author: Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Job: Line Illuminator
Pages: 23 - 68

Quote #1:

The barren, empty landscape of Siberia
Page 23: "The sentries sit in warm quarters, their sleepy heads propped against their rifles - it's not all milk and honey for them either, lounging on the watchtowers in such cold. The guards at the main gate tossed coal into the stove. The campguards in their room smoked now clad in all their rags, a rope around their waists, their faces bound from chin to eyes with bits of cloth against the cold, lay on their bunks with their boots on and waited, eyes shut, hearts aquake, for their squad leader to yell: 'Out you go.'"

As I read this passage, even though it is apparently very simple, many ideas came into my mind. To begin with, these phrases truly express how life in Siberia is difficult. At the time, communication between two distant places was indeed very hard, as there was no email or internet. Therefore, if something was straight out missing the gulags, the message requiring extra supplements would probably take months to arrive at the Russian capital, and would consume even more time for equipment to arrive. I got this information from the part of the quote that says how cold it could be at times. As a consequence, this leaded me to do some research on the Russian territory of Siberia, and it appeared that the place was a complete snow desert, without any sight of civilization. This idea clearly expresses how hard administration of such camps could be in the epoch. Furthermore, since the place was so snowy, obviously, not many plants can grow in such a harsh type of  climate, making the food supplies extremely limited. Last but not least, this passage might have as well taught me how difficult the life of a soldier or prisoner could be inside a gulag. For instance, soldiers needed to obey many orders from higher military ranks and not commit many mistakes, as this could result in severe punishment. This system is somewhat similar to the situation of the prisoners, yet they don't have a warm shelter available as the soldiers do, and they could lose their meal due to an error when in their labor duties.

Quote #2 + Extra:

Image representing a man hiding an object
Page 25: "Stitch, stitch, stitch, and the little tear in the mattress was mended, with bread concealed over it.

Page 26: "Alyosha was smart - he'd make a chink in the wall and hidden the little book in it, and it had survived every search.

The main reason why I chose particularly two phrases for this analysis was because I wanted to emphasize more the true ideas they express. For me, the concept that most stood out here was how the prisoners of the gulags did not have the right to have any more belongings than the other ones. Right at the beginning of the book, Shukhov mentions that his new valenki pairs were found and taken from him, as he wasn't allowed to have two pairs. Probably, due to the regulations of the army camp, interns were not allowed to pertain anything more superfluous or in higher amounts in their daily lives. Moreover, the first quote can tell you how scarce food was for the local prisoners. As I said before in my last post, the people in a gulag are in there because they committed some sort of political crime such as complaining of the government's actions, going against the communist regime, etc.. Due to this, people inside the camp were brought in there to be punished and to face the harsh reality the prisoners were in. Thus, no extra belongings were allowed inside the camp.
"No dogs and Chinese allowed" sign displayed in a building
Chinese communist uniform

Quote #3:

"At once he noticed that his fellow squad member Tsezar was smoking a cigarette, not a pipe. That meant he might be able to cadge a smoke. But he didn't ask right away; he stood quite close up to Tsezar and, half turning, looked past him."

Even though this passage is only communicating to the reader simple ideas, many questions and connections came to my mind as I read it. My grandfather once told me that when he went to the Soviet Union in 1988, he said that waving a cigarette in the middle of the streets would stop any car, be it a taxi or private. At the time, since it was a communism, taxi drivers would receive the same amount of money, leaving no reason for them to ride anyone to a certain place. However, if offered a pack of high-quality cigarettes, they would stop immediately. Certainly, the imported cigarettes did not exist for the public in communist times, and the cigarettes that were available were absolutely terrible. Therefore, the only way for them to obtain such a better item was through the tourists. In addition, my family members told me that one day, they were in a restaurant in a hotel in Soviet Russia and they didn't reserve any seats for dinner. Nonetheless, the men ended up serving them a very good quality, Russian caviar and prepared a true banquet, without them having any reservation. Withal, after they finished eating the only thing the waitress wanted by payment was twenty cigarette packs that costed only twenty dollars in the hotel's shop. The form of payment in this shop was exclusively Dollars, which was restricted to the Soviets to possess. In the end, my grandfather bought the packages and gave it to the waiter, which did not require anything else from them. Now, back to the original subject, from the last quotes I mentioned in this post, it was obviously expressed that superfluous items were not allowed inside a gulag. Then, how was Tsezar actually smoking one? As you could see in the quote, smoking was very valuable inside an army camp like this as well, as Shukhov approached his friend to try and get a puff. This all gives us a sense overall of how superfluous or "unnecessary" were absolutely restricted in the communist regime. Take a look at these other life experiences of my grandparents. For instance, when they were in the Soviet Union and, in another trip, in China, while they walked in the streets, it called a huge attention of the public because of the way they were dressed. At Russia, people were very poorly dressed, being absolutely impressed by the jeans and sunglasses my whole family were wearing, and they even offered items to trade them with. Adding on, when they were in Chinese territory, as everyone wore the same colors (white and grey), it was unbelievable the rue of the clothing my family wore to them. Colors that seemed like they have never seen before in clothing. In fact, they even stopped their daily routines and made circles around them just to take a look at their "unusual" outfits. Moreover, due to the luxury inside some local hotels in China, the natives were not allowed inside the building. Actually, there was even a plaque written: "No Chinese or dogs allowed inside". More, in communist China, money for tourists and for the natives were completely different, so there wouldn't be any negotiations with the public. Lastly, the hotels for tourists, be it in any communist sight, were designated by the own government, meaning the customer could not choose were he would like to be hosted. In general, all of this gives us a bit of sense of how the life of these people were back then. They did not have any rights to interact with tourists or own special objects of their desire. Overall, this hints us with how awful life could be in a communist regime due to the extremely limited, harsh, and restrained life it can provide you with.

Dogs and Chinese image site link unavailable: Picture's link


  1. Thiago,

    You brought out a lot of ideas and thoughts you wanted to share with us. They were brilliant conclusions to the book. I think we all know everybody would agree with you on the first quote. Nobody would want to experience such horror.

    In the second quote, you said that no personal belongings were allowed and it is true but why do you think that such rules were made. Even if they were books or a picture of their family, they wouldn't allow any personal items in the prisons. I think that this is so, because it may cause rioting or other matters. For example, a pencil and a notebook will leave evidence of how the prisons operated and etc; pictures of their families would cause longing of their families thus creating anger which leads to rioting. Overall, this would be the reason for keeping control of the prisoners. Do you think that this is communism? I don't think so. This is the complete opposite of equality amongst the people. How can Stalin have everything but the prisoners don't have the right to keep personal items that can't be used as a weapon.

    Overall, I think we share similar thoughts. We can both agree that there are limits to the people's privileges and it isn't an ideal communism. So, I just want to know your thoughts about this: what I have wrote and what you think about the quotes you chose.

    1. Ji Won,

      Thank you for your comment, I really appreciate your attention. Your response to my pot was quite interesting, and I am very interested in the subject and the climate you created.

      To begin with, I really liked your response about why prisoners can't have superfluous belongings. It makes perfect sense to me, and completely responded my doubt. Thank you for that. Now, you mentioned that having a picture of a family member might cause riot. However, I don't think this is the true purpose of why personal items weren't allowed, as prisoners did not have any power at all to rebel against the heavily armed guards. Therefore, they needed to be submissive. The main reason why I think they are not allowed to have any unnecessary items is because they are political prisoners, that did not agree with the communist regime. Thus, they were basically sent there to be tortured, killed, forced to do harsh labor, and suffer just like this. Did you know Joseph Stalin actually killed twenty million people that were against his communist government? I am not sure if you read my quote analysis correctly, but I did not mention that I think the reason why they didn't have these things was because of communism. If you take a look at my third quote and its analysis, I made a question saying why Tsezar was able to own a cigarette since personal belongings were not allowed. Just from this, I made a connection to my family's personal experiences when they visited communist countries. Nonetheless, I did not mentioned that people inside the gulag didn't have personal belongings due to communism. Instead, I justified that they didn't have superfluous items because they were thrown inside there for this purpose: to suffer.

      Ji Won, I hope I answered all your doubts about my post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me!


  2. Thiago,
    I found it very interesting that you were motivated to do research on the geograpy and weather of Siberia after reading the first paragraph. It is as if you wanted to find out just how harsh the circumstances were for these soldiers. I feel that the experience of hardship, that was so well described in a single paragragh was well supported by your findings and ideas.
    The stories you tell of your families experiences while travelling to communists countries reinforced the idea that the descriptions in the book are not exaggerated but actually very realistic. The longing and deprivation expressed in the paragraph of the soldier with the cigarette is so well understood by you and I find it interesting and original
    how you made connections between the experiences in the book to. real life experiences that your grandparents had with the taxis and waitress in Russia. If anything, with your analysis and comments, you reinforce the experience for me as a reader.