Saturday, August 30, 2014

Question Commander – Daniel Choe

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Author: Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Pages: 23 – 68

Rotation 2

Job #4 – Question Commander

Question 1: Why aren't the prisoners able to choose what they are going to do in the future?

After reading some pages of the book, I came across one of Ivan's thoughts that I found interesting. On page 41, Ivan narrates that he lost the habit of planning for his future, since the authorities chose everything for him. Now, this section of the book guided me on thinking of a question because of the fact of choosing. Everyone has to choose with their own thoughts so that they can achieve something they really want. For example, if someone is starving, he will probably choose to eat something, because he is hungry. Now, if someone chose for him, and made him not eat anything, then he would be revolted because he didn't have the choice to do something he wanted, which in this case was to fulfill his hunger. Coming back to the story, if the prisoners can't choose, it will mean that they will get angry at anything the authorities choose for them since it might be something they didn't want to do. Furthermore, if the prisoners can't choose, it will mean that they can never get out of the prison because they will never learn from their mistakes. The authorities are forcing them to learn, meaning that it will create more angriness inside the prisoners. If the prisoners could choose what to do, and were guided (not forced) to the right direction, there might be a chance that the prisoners would change since they could reflect on what they did wrong by themselves, instead of being forced to reflect on their mistakes.

Question 2: Why doesn't the prisoners give suggestions or ideas to the authorities?

At first, this question might not make sense, but it has a meaning behind it if you understand it. When Ivan was taking the blocks to complete his job, he thought taking the mortar would be useless, since it could freeze by the cold weather, but, he didn't share this idea with anyone else. I thought this part of the story was interesting because Ivan didn't tell his idea that taking the mortar would be pointless to the authorities or any of the prisoners. If Ivan told the authorities his concern, they could take his idea in consideration and help him make the mortar not to freeze. This would help the prisoners significantly, since they wouldn't need to unfreeze the mortar, meaning that they would waste less time doing their job. Because Ivan didn't tell anyone about it, I can easily predict that the prisoners will have to unfreeze the mortar since it probably will freeze in the cold weather. Again I ask, why do the prisoners keep ideas to themselves, instead of giving them to the authorities? 

Question 3: Is Ivan a spy? What is his mission?

To start with this question, on page 65, the prisoners talk about Ivan Denisovich Shukov, and when he was sentenced by high treason. They also said that Ivan had surrendered to the Germans, just so that he could betray his own country. Continuing, the prisoners also said that Ivan is carrying out a mission for the Germans. After this happenings, I ask, Is Ivan a spy? The reason I say this is because Ivan surrendered to the Germans to betray his country, meaning that he wanted to do something bad to Russia before he went to the Gulag. Also, spies normally carry some sort of mission to complete, and in the book, Shukov is carrying out a mission for the Germans. Can Ivan have received a mission to do something in Russia after he surrendered? If so, what is his mission? The reason I say this other question is because the book doesn't state anything horrible Ivan did to his country. Because this information still remains unclear, it isn't easy to say what mission Ivan has. In my opinion, the only suspicious thing Ivan can be doing is to learn what prisoners build in the Gulag. My justification is because Ivan can tell the Germans everything about the Gulag, making the Germans have an advantage over the Russians if they ever come to war.

Overall, there were loads of questions to be asked, but these were what called most attention to me.


  1. Daniel,

    Wow! What a thoughtful post! I really liked your deep, interesting questions and I am willing to answer them.

    To begin with, your first question is asking why don't the prisoners do what they want to inside the camp. The answer, by all means, is quite simple. Prisoners inside the gulag were kept there mostly for treason of the nation, or by just going against Stalin's communist way of government. Therefore, they were sent to these camps exactly to suffer the consequences for doing that. They were meant to be tortured like this, starve, and have to face the tremendous, harsh climate. Thus, they were in there to be tortured and not to be allowed to have what they wanted, or anything superfluous as well. In other words, they will practically never be released. This is absolutely not a regular jail, to be honest. There certainly no chance for you to learn from your mistakes, as you will stay there forever. Without a droplet of doubt, prisoners are revolted at the soldiers and at the government for keeping them in this horrid place. However, they couldn't do anything about it because the people with guns are the ones that have the power. In general, the interns didn't have any motivation or position to be able to counterattack and create a rebellion.

    Moreover, going on to your second question, it asks us about why don't the prisoners communicate their ideas and thoughts with the guards and authorities. Well, my opinion is that since they are so poorly treated in the camp, they are even afraid of speaking to the guards, as they could be beaten up just by doing so. Furthermore, these prisoners had no voice inside the gulag, making their opinion basically useless to any authority.

    Daniel, your post was absolutely brilliant. I truly enjoyed brainstorming these ideas and sharing them with the group. Thank you for communicating your excellent thoughts with me!


  2. Great post Daniel,
    I think that all of your questions were really well thought but the one that called my attention the most was the first one.

    I think that your question was really good because it made me think about it. Although I don't quite agree with you when you say that the prisoners should have a choice to do what they want. I think that if someone is in the gulag is because they did something wrong and were put in there to suffer the consequences. So I think that the people should not get to choose what they wanted to do. Sure, maybe they should get to eat proper amount of food because that would not only benefit the prisoners but also the authorities because the prisoners would get more strength to do what the authorities told the to. Also, you say that if the people don't get to choose so they won't be able to get out of jail because they will not learn from their mistakes. Although, the prisoners don't get out of the gulag when they are done with their time period. So I don't think that they will actually have to learn from their mistakes.

    Overall, you had great questions even though we interpreted some different.

  3. For the first question, I think that the reason the prisoners can't chose what they are going to do in the future, because if you go in jail, you have kind of a criminal file in your history, which means that most jobs won't want you, that you will not be able to go into many jobs, because they won't want people that were once in jail in their company, because they fear that he will steal something.
    For the Second question, the prisoners don't give ideas or suggestions for the authorities, because sometimes they fear the authorities, so they each want to keep it low and they want to be through this prison, so they just want to keep it each one for themselves. I think that Ivan wasn't a spy, because on the bare bits that he ended up appearing in the book, I think that he is just there trying to do his job, but not trying to spy, just trying to do what he is supposed to do.

  4. For the first question, i think that the reason prisoners couldn't choose what they are going to do is because they might lie and make more crimes.Also there are files of your history and probably nobody will want you.
    For the second question i don't have any ideas because it is their thoughts of it.
    the third question is supposed there is a probable chance but he isn't a spy because on the bare bits he ended up. He could be probably cheated secretly, or the people thought of something else

  5. Question 3: Is Ivan a spy? What is his mission?

    In all honesty I think that your post was really nice and detailed for various reasons. I think that the only thing I would give a advice on is be more specific on your ideas because I think you talk about more broader topics. I agree with you that maybe Ivan is a spy because both of the the section gave us some clues. (pages. 1-63) The fist clue that the book gave us was when Ivan hides supplies from the camp like a fork, bread and other survival things but don’t really need or use it through these two sections. The second clue the book gives is when Ivan mentions about a mission that he has and don’t really talk more about the mission on this sections of the book. I thought a little bit more about him being a spy and betraying his country so I came up with an idea that maybe he faked betraying his country so that he would spy on the other counties and know their plans for the war and maybe he was caught and he went to this camp. That makes more sense on the fact of how is the begging of the story and how Ivan Denisovich entered his camp. In conclusion, I think that some little clues helps us come to a sense that maybe their is a broader topic that the author is talking in the book but not direct.

  6. Daniel,

    I chose to answer your second question. It caught my attention because I have been talking about this in the rest of my comments. I think that they don't allow it because it lowers the power and position of the authorities. If you don't understand, communism is when the government takes everybody's wealth and distributes it amongst the people, thus creating equality. But to do this, they need power since nobody would just give out their resources to a random stranger. The government or dictator has to have power (usually military power). I think that the prisoners can't give suggestions to the authorities because it would show that the authorities aren't smart enough to realize what prisoners can notice. This would significantly lower the authorities position and the people would realize that such fools are taking and distributing their wealth. Ultimately, the communist country would fall. Also, if you were responsible for a gulag prison, you wouldn't want to take feedback from the prisoners. Using common sense as the head of the prison, you wouldn't want to seem foolish in front of the criminals. I hope this answers your confusion. If not, do you disagree? Did this comment help you enhance or initiate your thinkings?

    1. Ji Won,

      Great comment, you showed thoughtful ideas that I didn't think before, and you even explained words just to make sure I understood.

      As my compliment says, this comment enhanced my thinking. The reason is because before, I thought that if a prisoner gave a suggestion to the authorities, it would be fine, since he would be hearing suggestions from other people. I thought it would be like that because like us, as a student, we can give suggestions to teachers, and they can learn from them. Now, because you mentioned that the authorities reputation would be lowered if a prisoner gave him a suggestion, I can see why my thought is incorrect.

      Continuing, you mentioned if I agreed or disagreed with your comment. In my opinion, I agree with your thinking. One again, you said that if a prisoner started to give suggestions to the authorities, the authorities reputation would be lowered, since they would be hearing the opinion of someone that is in the lower class then theirs. This connects to real life because if a prisoner asks a wish of theirs to the president, and the president does his will, then the president's reputation will be drastically lowered, since he is hearing the opinion of a thief.

      Still, overall, your comment made me think for a while. Also, how do you think the book would change if the authorities could hear prisoner's opinions if their reputation weren't lowered? I ask this because it connects to your thinking and mine. You talked about reputation, and I talked about choices, but if I mixed both thoughts, it would create an interesting question.

  7. Daniel, I really liked your post, and enjoyed your questions, however I enjoyed the first question the most. What I actually think is that the prisoners don't care what the authorities choose for them. Maybe they care at the beginning, but I don't think they'd care at the later parts of ther life (unless they have really strong will-power. The guards don't really care what is one to the prisoners, the most important thing is "breaking" them. So, they find out the fastest way to break in the prisoners so they can have an army of mindless workers at their disposal. What that means is that the prisoners are so used to that lifestyle that they don't really care what's done to them anymore, so they wouldn't fight back against most decisions. And, anyways, if they fought back, what would they earn? The guards have all the equipment and weapons, not the prisoners.

  8. Daniel,
    You post is really good, with many interesting question that bring out new and original ideas.

    The question that stood out to me was the last one, question #3. I agree with you, what if he is a spy? His reason for being in this labor camp is still unknown, and using you evidence. Just like you said he didn't do anything wrong, so what is he doing there? He must be doing some kind of service for the germans. I also agree with the last sentence. He has all the information about what happens inside the gulag. But, if he weren't working for the germans, what is he doing there? Did he actually do something wrong? i guess we have to find out.

  9. Great post Daniel i think the first post was the one that stood out the most to me. I think it is because they don't really get out of the gulags and so they start to lose hope every day. and thus making them less passionate to do more things. it could also be because the guards try to make them less reckless so that they can be lazy about their guarding.