Sunday, September 7, 2014

Question Commander: Alejandro A.

Book: A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Author: Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Job: Question Commander
Pages: 69-105

Question #1:
Why would the "parrots" (sentries) not care at all about Ivan and Kilgas taking the roof felt (just an example), but certain authorities like Der actually care? 

       If you take a look at page 55 (I know it wasn't in assigned reading, I connected it with something later on though) it talks about the transport of the roof felt, and how the parrots wouldn't care they were taking it unless they were planning to escape. However, take a look at Der (around page 98) he seemed to be much more involved into the zek's life and build process. He had no intentions of backing off until he was physically threatened. Now, I have no idea if it's just to pressure the prisoner's, boredom, his rank, or whatever other possibilites there are of seperating him from the sentries. I think I'll take off rank from the list though, because, if sentries are required to watch the prisoner's and aren't doing their job, why should Der have to? The reason I do not think this applies too much to Der is because he does not seem to be very high up in the Gulag hierarchy. My thoughts come from the idea that people higher up wouldn't be checking the prisoner's and interacting with them (after all, as we've seen in the book people of higher stature think zeks are scum, so why should they have to deal with them?) So now I think it's because of boredom. As a sentry, and you are bored, you cannot rightfully leave your post and bother prisoners. No, that will certainly be noticed. In Der's case, he can do that, so why not bug the prisoner's for whatever reason you can find?

Question #2:
Why was the author putting in so many things regarding food/meals in these passages?

       My main thought regarding this question is so that you get more immersed into the book, or at least get more of a picture of what is going on in these labor camps. We already read about comfort (there's still references here and there, it's not completely gone, and I don't think it will, it's just a permanent part of a prisoner's life), the whole thing with waking up, Ivan's possible illness, the temperature, etc. and now we're being bombarded with a gigantic amount of food references, even though there's really little of it but a great deal of importance. With each thread and each topic, we get more ideas on how the prisoner is experiencing life. As you hear Ivan hiding his scraps of bread, the crusts, yearning for an extra bowl of oatmeal, or even Ivan plainly eating the food itself, you marvel at how you have food much more exquisite than a piece of bread, but Ivan experiences much more fully than we ever did. How could you, that can spare several spices, seasonings, sauces, not sense what Ivan does with a straightforward slice of bread? 

Question #3:
Why do prisoner's allow themselves to be forced to a certain goals without even a hint of struggle?

       More towards the end of our assigned reading passages, the book explained how even in break time zeks would work if the squad leader asked them to. Now, I understand that everything the prisoner's strive for comes through him, but shouldn't the prisoner's at least complain they need the break? How come the books keep talking about "sweating blood" and all that stuff from work, but when a break gets cut in time they do not even bat an eye? Shouldn't the leader at least adress the situation/understand the need of a time of rest? I believe that because no one cares that they don't get as much rest takes away from the experience I'm getting. I'm fairly sure that in a real life situation at least one person would whine about it, unless there's something I'm missing. Could it be that the prisoner's are so worn down and broken that they just do not care anymore? Work me to death if you will, at least keep my limbs moving so I die a warm death? Is that seriously how the zeks are thinking? I don't know about you, but without a little more of explanation, I cannot see how no prisoner cares at all, as I bet there's prisoners with a strong will in there, a will not easily broken.

"Majdanek Concentration Camp." Majdanek Concentration Camp. Scrap Book Pages, 21 July 2009. Web. 07 Sept. 2014. <>.

Ron. "US Slave." US Slave. Blogger, n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2014. <>.


  1. Alejandro,

    Wow! What an excellent post! Your questions are very thoughtful and deep, and I am willing to answer them.

    To start, I would like to respond to your second question that asks why does the author mention so many things about food. Well, in case you didn't know, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the author of this book, was an actual prisoner in a gulag, and the first to denounce its existence to the world. Anyway, he probably mentioned so many pages directed to the subject of foods because it must have been one of the most marking experiences for him inside one of these camps. In my opinion, he included so much of that because of how limited food was for the prisoners. Moreover, if you were a disobedient zek, then you could lose several meals due to your misbehavior, which might give us a clue that Alexander was this type of prisoner and suffered heavily with the consequences. Furthermore, another reason why he might have described this situation so much is because of how important its significance is and he truly wanted people to understand how horrid it was back then.

    Moving on, your third question looks very interesting to answer. I guess the prisoners are being so pessimistic about this because of this. Picture yourself being jailed for a decade, suffering for a decade, starving for a decade. To resist this, you would need to be extremely strong-willed. However, many prisoners would just think of dying instead of going on in this horrible situation.

    Alejandro, I was truly impressed what a brilliant post yours was. Great ideas in there! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

  2. Alejandro,

    Good questions. They were well made and can be used to hear different opinions.

    The question that I found interesting was the second. Your question was why the author puts about food. Adding on, you said that the author puts specific details that show low amounts of food, such as Ivan hiding his bread crusts, etc.

    In my opinion, I think that the reason he puts people starving is because of real life happenings. Right now, hundreds of people are dying for low amounts of food. An example is in Africa, where millions of families are dying for not enough food. I think the reason Alexander describes Ivan suffering well is because he wants to show how it feels to starve without food. Adding on, I think Alexander believes he can change the suffering of low food in the world, and he wants to show suffering using a well descriptive book. Furthermore, I think the author also wants to show us to help people starving, and not just think food as anything.

    After this analysis, I ask, do you think the book would change if the prisoners didn't starve? The reason I say this is because one of the main topic in the book is starvation, and if it was token off, I think the meaning of the book would change.

    Overall, I think your question was well made and I was able to learn more from your question.


  3. I think they care, because, what I think is that in this prison, there are different levels of prisoners, which means that some have a "higher class" than other prisoners. I think why they put things regarding to food, would be because it is important to get food so that you can survive in this prison, so food is a big deal for this. I think that the reason why they have to struggle, it is because they want extra bowls of food, so it is worth it to just go with the flow and work and at the end receive the food, it is kind of like you reward.

  4. Alejandro,
    This is a great post! Out of all your questions, I would like to mention the third one especially.
    Throughout the novel, we see various displays of overpowering authority and prisoners being victims of unfair crimes towards them. One example is working during their breaks, another is simple the reasons why they got to be sent there in the first place. However, living in the USSR during that period in history, people did not have much power at all. They could not decide many things, and they did not know about a lot of information as well. One example is the Gulags. The way that it was inside one was kept secret for a extended period of time. However, I believe that the prisoners simply conform to these situations because they do not have any power to defy the authorities and change them. What is the prisoner going to do, run away? In many ways, these men are slaves to the people who are superior to them. They cannot run away either. They have lost hope in many ways. Nothing that they do would help them. Throughout the book, I noticed a trend in Shukhov's thoughts that I believe is shared by most of the other prisoners. Ivan Denisovich is not very optimistic and even cynical at some points. In his life, all he does is think about surviving and getting by. He does think of expressing his opinion or personality. He does not engage in any political discussions or find himself getting in trouble. This is because he knows it is useless. There is no point in going through all the trouble if you are simply going to get harshly punished and will still have to wake up to the same life the next morning. I believe he does not see that things could be better, or if he does, he has lost hope of reaching that point. I also noticed that while he is working, Ivan can change his attention from the suffering of cold and hunger to something else. He starts to take pride in his work, and it warms him up. I believe that the men start to find some form of comfort in the work that they are doing. Maybe it might help him out after he gets out. It also gives him the insurance that he will not be tortured by the guards, and therefore live a bit better. So, I don't know if the men don't see it as unjust, or if they have lost the hope of arguing, or if they are like Shukhov, doing the bare minimum to survive another day, nothing more, nothing less. What do you think?

  5. Alejandro,

    I chose to answer the second question because I also asked a similar question in my post. The first thought I got was that the author was trying to emphasise the importance of food to survival in the gulag camps. Maybe it is the biggest aspect he can remember from his prison experience. But in these passages, he also talks about the work the chef and the inspector has to do. Also, the passage is followed by Shukhov going to the office to deliver a bowl of kasha to Tsezar. In page 72, the author narrates, "Shukhov in his youth fed oats to horses! Never had it occurred to him that there'd come a time when his whole soul would yearn for a handful of them." Maybe the author wrote so much on this specific topic because it branches to other memories the author had that can describe how horrid these prisons were. But I think that it could have a bigger meaning than this. Sure, the author could have been trying to show us how unpleasant these prisons were, but maybe he is using a metaphor. Maybe the book is a metaphor of a belief he has.