A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
What is the role of conformity and nonconformity in the novel, and how does this connect to the historical setting of the text?
|A group of conformed people|
A significant part of this book is about conforming or not conforming to the norms set by society back then. As you know, the book takes place over the time-span of just one day. However, in this single day, you are able to understand so much about the Gulag that Shukhov is imprisoned in. You can evidently see that the author put a lot of thought into the way he displayed conformity, as well as how he displayed nonconformity. You can easily distinguish the characters which have conformed from the ones who are still struggling against the terrible regime. The ones who have conformed are those who steal and have given up hope of getting out, while the ones who are unconformed are those who retain their dignity and are still resilient. Some of the characters who have obviously conformed to the prison are Fetyukov, Kolya, "Snub Nose", etc. Although there are some characters who have clearly conformed, there are even more who have not; like Shukhov, Gopchik, Alyoshka, Tzezar, and Tyurin. For some reason, most of the main characters in the book are unconfirmed. I believe that this is because the author wanted to show that breaking away from the mold that society had created, especially back then, was a good thing. Back when the author was writing this book, the USSR was extremely harsh and rigorous in its regime. Stalin, the dictator of the time, believed that any wrong should be punished viciously- which is why people who did little wrong ended up in Gulags. The author, knowing this, wanted to encourage people to stop being afraid of the communist party and start to drift away from the political ideal that the country held back then.
What theme or themes does the author explore in the novel? Which passages in the text connect to the theme?
|A homeless man retaining his dignity|
While reading this book, I couldn't help but notice one eminent theme in this book that kept popping up everywhere. This theme dignity and having a strong moral ground. In such a degrading place, it is very remarkable that these prisoners, especially Shukhov, haven't gone completely insane and become totally selfish. However, just because they haven't gone totally insane doesn't mean they haven't gone mad doesn't mean they haven't been driven to a near breaking point. You can see this on pages 110-115 how viciously and savagely the 'zeks' reacted when a prisoner went missing. To quote from the book, "If the guards handed him over to the zeks they'd tear him apart, like wolves with a lamb." As you can see, these prisoners are pushed to the breaking point day after day. However, they remain sane and moral. By moral, I am talking about being ethical and having a strong sense of right and wrong. Shukhov demonstrates his morality in the book by always taking off his hat when he eats. Taking off his hat is a way to preserve his dignity. I find it amazing that even in such ignominious setting, the people can still be so virtuous. With absolutely no comfort, inadequate food, and subversive physical labor, this camp was most definitely designed to attack the zeks' physical, but even more importantly, spiritual dignity. By replacing the prisoners' names with numbers, the camp expels any individuality the zeks' may have had. Shukhov, however, does not rebel ostensibly. He prefers to simply struggle on and not give in. Although the camp treats him like an animal, he refuses to become one. Every day, these prisoners have to fight for their dignity. Not only do they fight against the camp, but they also have to fight against themselves mentally. The amount of willpower it takes to not become an animal in this type of environment is huge.
A short video about Shukhov and how he fights for his dignity.
"Biography of Dignity." N.p., 2014. Web. <www.moviespictures.org/biography/Dignity>