Sunday, August 24, 2014

Question Commander Section #1 - Thiago Rossi

Book: A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Author: Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Pages: 3 - 22
Question Commander

Question #1: How does the author know so much about the subject? How does his writing seem so realistically accurate in this scenery?

Throughout the reading of this book, it is impossible not to notice how detailed and accurate the writing is. One of the things I am most liking about this book so far is how realistic it actually sounds and the mood inside the gulag where Ivan is. However, the question that is still in my mind is how the author could know so much of this. A possible answer to this is that he actually lived this period in time. At that time, after World War II ended, many books were released relating to the real life experiences of diverse people that took part in the actual war. Moreover, making some research on the author of the book, I learned that Alexander was actually a prisoner in a gulag, and the first one to denounce the existence of these camps. Therefore, most of the information inside the book must have surely come from his real life experiences, and thus explains why the book is so painstakingly realistic and accurately detailed.

Gulag Laborers

Question #2: Why is Ivan a prisoner? What happened to him before going to jail? Was Ivan someone politically important?

In the times of the Soviet Union, a gulag - where Ivan currently is - was an army camp for prisoners that opposed the communist "philosophy" of the Soviet Dictator, Josef Stalin. In the book, the main character Ivan is condemned accidentally by treason to the government, as we can read in the back of the book. Accordingly, one of the biggest questions that I have until now is how was he sent there by accident. One of the only answers I could think of is only if he was mistaken for another person when he was sent in. Another valid possibility is the fake denounce of a civilian that said he was against the regime. Another question that still remains unanswered is Ivan's previous political position in the past, before becoming an intern. After Josef Stalin become the Soviet Dictator, all politicians that disagreed with his communist way of governing were sent to gulags, which leads me to believe that Ivan could have been an government official.

Josef Stalin, ex-Soviet Dictator

Question #3: Why are these army camps so strict? Why is there a punishment for so many things, and why is food so limited for the prisoners?

At the time, I think that everyone that was against the communist regime were treated like traitors and scum by the whole Soviet society, and didn't earn any respect from anyone and were forced to do heavy labors, as described in various parts of the book. As a result from this "treason" they were constantly tortured and treated like stray dogs by the officials. In my opinion, the gulags were so secret like this because the government didn't want the public to figure out the forced way of life they were restricted to. My own mother told me that when she went to the Soviet Union, in the market, there used to be an enormous line to receive the daily, limited food supplies such as bread and other basic things. The communist way of government says that everyone needs to be at the same social level, and have no physical properties, as everything pertains to the government. Like that, I can infer that the way the prisoners live is just about the same, as they are limited to the amount of food they can get. However, the only twist is that they could lose their food due to a mistake during their labor, as mentioned in the 5th paragraph of page 7 of the book. Overall, at the time must have been real harsh for these people in the camp, as everything inside a gulag had a severe consequence for mistakes.

The line to the market in Soviet Russia


Gulag Image Website
Josef Stalin Image Website
Soviet Russia Market Line Image Link


  1. Great post, Thiago!
    I really enjoyed reading what you wrote!
    I think that your questions were really well written, and they made me think when I was reading.

    I totally agree with you in the first question when you ask how much the author knows about the subject. I agree that the author probably lived during World War II. The whole time that I was reading this book I was thinking how does the author know exactly how thing were, and you answered my question. I did not know that Alexander actually lived in the gulag, and that is something very interesting to know because it makes our understanding of the book even better knowing that probably all of those facts are real.

    Secondly, for your second question why is Ivan a prisoner I also agree with you. There can be many possible ways for people to get thrown in the gulag and if you don't research about it your possibility can be forever lasting. But by reading this book the author seems to be a nice person, and I think that he was thrown in the gulag by mistake.

    Lastly, in the last question you wrote I don't totally agree with you. I think that the people should receive proper food like any normal person because they are humans and they need food to survive and to be strong. Although, if they were in the gulag it was probably because they did something bad or contradicted the laws. So I think that the people should be forced to do certain things just like regular jail.

  2. Thiago,

    Yours questions can be simple, but it is great that we are able to answer the questions differently.

    Your first question was about the accuracy on the writing. Continuing, you said that many books were released, and that Alexander was actually in a gulag also, meaning that he could have written the book better. In my opinion, I agree with your thought. The reason being is because I was the researcher. I learned that Alexander's real life story is actually similar to Ivan's story because both of them were called to be guilty, and had to confess more so there wouldn't be any more consequences. With this information, I think that Alexander was able to incorporate realistic happenings because he passed through the happenings himself, meaning that he can add specific details to his story.

    Now, going to your second question, you asked why Ivan went to jail. Even if I didn't research on this topic, I think I can still explain. According to my research, both Alexander's and Ivan's stories are similar. If Alexander was sent to prison because of a friend of his, Ivan probably went to prison because of a friend of his. Something that contradicts my theory is your saying. You said that Ivan was sent by accident, meaning that even if he was sent to jail because of a friend, he was sent because of an accident, and not because someone wanted him to go.

    Your third question was about the strictness of Russia's army camps. You said that people at that time were treated like traitors, and that maybe that was one reason why they were strict. In my opinion, I partly think it is that. Yes, people could have been treated like traitors, but I think it is because of the camps themselves. After researching, I discovered the camp Ivan is in is actually Stalin's camp. Stalin was a very powerful and evil person, since he enslaved people. If the camp was Stalin's I think the camp is supposed to be strict, since it is from a powerful dictator.

    Also, going into another topic, do you think Ivan will survive in the camp? I ask this because, like we agree on, the camp is extremely strict, and it's from Stalin.

    In conclusion, your questions are well made and can be used to see different opinions, like mine.


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  4. Thiago, I think that you made a great post and you reflected on the book really well. I agree with your answer on the question: How does the author know so much about the subject? How does his writing seem so realistically accurate in this scenery? You said that maybe he lived this experience I also think that he probably lived a similar life that is in the book. Adding to that, I think that the character Ivan Denisovich is a made up character but it represents someone the author knows like a friend he had or a member of his family so it made him have live experience. For your other question, #2: Why is Ivan a prisoner? What happened to him before going to jail? Was Ivan someone politically important? I also agree with you but I think that he was a slave in that time and I think that he had to live in the camp while the war was going on so he had shelter and things to survive but he had to work as a slave to keep the camp clean and satisfy his “owner”. Lastly, on your question #3, I also agree with you but in addition to what you said I think it was because it was in the middle of a war and they needed to keep things organized and strict so no one would joke around and the food had to be limited because it is hard to go and get food in the middle of a war so they had to share and be grateful that they had some food to survive.

  5. Thiago,
    Your post is very detailed and has a very good flow in the sentence.
    You first question is interesting one, but I think that you didn't really accomplish the question commander. I thought that you made it into more of a Risk Taking Researcher. Maybe it's just me. Moving on, your question is an interesting on, and I agree with you. The way that the author writes makes us feel as if we were in Ivan's position.
    Your second question I also think about, if he hasn't done anythign wrong, then why is he were he is? It doesn't really make sense. Your answer to this question is interesting, but we haven't read the whole book yet. Maybe some answers shall come along as we read.
    Your last, but not least, question is very interesting. I kind of agree with you when you say that they are strict because these people have done wrong things. But does that mean that they have to starve? That they get so little food that their ribs show?
    Overall, I think you did a really good job on your post. I think you were very detailed and interesting. Just next time, make it the Connection Captain, instead of Connection/Risk-Taker Captain. :)

  6. Question #1: How does the author know so much about the subject? How does his writing seem so realistically accurate in this scenery?

    Well this totally confuses me i thought that Ivan was the author and that he was wrighting from personal experience from the intro at least thats what i got. If it was not him i think that maybe a relative had worked as a guard at a gulag befor. who knows.

    Question #2: Why is Ivan a prisoner? What happened to him before going to jail? Was Ivan someone politically important?

    Again did not the beginning of the book say that he had betrayed the government at the time thus making his go to a gulag. I also think it could be because of the book he wrote remember in the book comite how he was afraid of the government getting mad about his book.

    Question #3: Why are these army camps so strict? Why is there a punishment for so many things, and why is food so limited for the prisoners?

    I think the food is limited because the cook needs to cook for so many in such little time that there is no time to waste making special recipes for each meals for each day. it could also be because of lack of supplies and seasoning or just pure laziness on the cooks part.

  7. Thiago,

    Thank you for such a thoughtful post. I want to respond to your third question which I think brings up some important issues to consider.

    You mentioned the belief system of communism. Communists said they believed in equality more than freedom. They believed in the importance of the group over the individual. They believed in sacrificing for the good of the group, and as you said, only having what you need.

    Many of us see these as noble beliefs, myself included, but here we are faced with the horrible brutality of a prison camp during the communist reign of Russia (then known as the USSR). So we are faced with a contradiction. You asked why do these camps have to be so brutal? Many of the students responded that they need to be brutal to keep people in line at the camp. Could it be that we are not wired to think of others? That we have a "default setting" that is so strong it need to be beaten out of us?

    That would be giving Stalin the benefit of the doubt, and take him at his word that he really believes in the values behind the communist system. Perhaps the only way to get actual equality is to enforce it. However, I think Stalin was using the ideas as a way to justify his horrible dictatorship. Ultimately, I think Stalin just wanted power.

    Can you think of other situation where people do bad things, but come up with ways to justify them? It is not like they are making excuses, but actually trying to convince people, and themselves, that these bad things are needed in order to accomplish good things. A really good example of this recently in pop culture is the character of Walt in Breaking Bad who justifies horrible things in the name of his family, but probably is really just about the power.

  8. Thiago,

    I agree with you that it makes absolute sense for the author to have gone to the gulag himself. The scenery is described in a way that seems real - he was probably describing what he remembered the gulag to be like. It is really interesting, though, that you mentioned he was the first one to denounce the existence of these camps. Why do you think he was the first one? Do you think it was because all the others were scared of being sent back there, or do you think there was another reason?

    Next, I understand why you think that Alexander may have been a politician, because any politician that disagreed with Soviet was sent to a gulag. On the other hand, though, I don't think only politicians went to the gulag. Don't you think anyone who disagreed with the dictator went to the gulag? Maybe Alexander wasn't even a politician. Other than that, I think what you said about Ivan and Alexander being there by accident, or at the most because they didn't do anything wrong.

    Lastly, I agree with you that the camp was excessively strict. I think your motive and explanation makes sense. I just don't agree about what you said that prisoners in the gulag were treated almost the same as regular citizens. People outside of the gulag had better food, more freedom, even though it was also very limited, etc. There would be no punishment in the gulag if the prisoners weren't treated harshly.

    In conclusion, I think your questions were really great and helped me understand the book better.