Sunday, February 8, 2015

Question Commander - Max H.

Max H.

Rotation 1- Introduction/Foreword & pg.3 - pg.22

Question Commander

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

1) Is there a specific system for punishments, or does it depend on each warden?

      In this first part of the book, Ivan feels sick and ends up waking up after the ideal time. This warden out of thin air decides to put him in ''the hole'' as the prisoners call it. Instead, Ivan was lucky and was sentenced by having to do many painful duties such as washing the floor of the warden's quarters. Not only that, but he removes his shoes to avoid getting them wet, which is because something like shoes is a really valuable item in a place where Ivan is imprisoned. Usually, punishments are supposed to help people become more responsible for their actions, and how they should think before they act. In this case, Ivan thought he could just sleep a bit longer, but only later on he realized that it didn't pay off. Relating back, if such a cruel punishment is given, the overall point or reason of punishment is lost. This is why I ask, is there a set of rules, or limit to how one prisoner may be punished?

An image to show the balance as equal or fair rights, and the gavel to represent punishment. In the book, these do not particularly connect because of the cruel punishment given around the time of World War II.

2) Why is the protagonist, Ivan, in camp?

        There are many possibilities at the moment of why Ivan is in camp. However, until now, there isn't a very definite reason of why this random man was sent to prison. From my perspective, the most reasonable answer is that Ivan was against the situation that was going on in Russia, and anyone who was against the political philosophy at that time would be sent to this camp. Hopefully, later on the book, the reason of why Ivan is in camp will be clarified further.

3) How do you imagine the setting in the camp?

        Though throughout this first bit of the book some components of the location is revealed, it is not entirely clear what life is like in the camp. Based on the book, the story takes place in Russia, during the Soviet Union. Because of its geographical location, the weather in this place is particularly freezing cold and almost such a low temperature to not allow prisoners in camps to stay healthy. From my current perspective, I imagine the camp located in a totally deserted area, where looking onto the horizon would be like looking at white paint dry on a wall. Snow covered everywhere and a living condition that is almost inhumane. Barely any color is seen and work is all that is going on, except for transitions and meals that the prisoners have at least 3 times per day, yet they only have a short period of time. 

Small representation to show how the weather conditions might be like in the book.


  1. Dear Max,
    Great post! I think that your post was great to help me understand the start of this book, which was very confusing for me. Next, your second question is very similar to one of the questions I had in my own post, yet I don't completely agree with your answer. The book takes place in the 1950's right after the second world war, so I think he did something wrong against Russia in the war. What are your thoughts?

  2. Max,

    After reading your blogpost I thought of some things to add. For your first question I researched and found out that a Gulag stands for Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Labor Settlements which means that people what were in these camps have either done something really bad or are innocent and were mistaken for doing something else. These camps lasted from 1930-1950 and forced inmates to work non stop with little to no food and little to wear. There were many people that were sent to these camps and sentenced for 10-25 years. It was probably hard for officials to keep track of everybody and how each one was punished. People who worked as guards and officials didn't have it easy too. They had to work in these cold climates and food was also limited but not as much as the prisoners. Overall Gulags were cruel places where only the strongest mentally and physically survived.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. 3) How do you imagine the setting in the camp?

    As you said not much was described about the setting, other than it was it Russia during the Soviet Union. In Russia it is usually freezing cold. I imagined the prisoners almost freezing to death with almost no warmth. This camp is not for murders, but most prisoners probably die because they are freezing to death. Especially during the winter there is many health problems that they are suffering from. Some of them have to live like that for 10 years or more. Imagine if that was you, freezing in your tent the cold air blowing in, and you have a sheet to cover your shivering body. I find it amazing how Ivan had the mindset to keep on going, and to not give up on the only thing that they can not take away from, hope. I also imagined the setting in a closed area away from any towns or cities. That all prisoners can see is miles and miles of snow covered trees, and no sight of any living thing. When I picture the camp in my head I imagine the sky is grey. Because of how depressing it is that people can do that to other people. The grey sky represents the depression from the prisoners, and how most of their lives end there.

  5. Max, great post. I think that the question that most caught my eye was 2, "Why is the protagonist, Ivan, in camp?". The history behind this book mainly lies with the author's own experiences as a prisoner in one of the Gulag system camps for ten years (1945-1953). After Alexander Solzhenitsyn was released in 1953, he began to write One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich describing his time in the camp. Although Gulag camps were present in every part of the USSR, the harshest and most inhumane ones were located around the arctic circle, in the coldest part of Russia. The inexperienced prisoners were forced to perform harsh and dangerous manual labor for the profit of many industries in the USSR. Many times, prisoners were sent the the camps for just about anything. Surprisingly, prisoners could get sent to the camps for petty theft, being tardy to work 3 times or even for making jokes about the government in private. Since the story is based on the author's life in camp, I believe that Ivan was sent into the Gulag system for the same reason that his creator was. That is, for writing disrespectful or offending comments about the way Stalin was ruling the country and fighting the war in letters to his friends. These letters were most likely intercepted by the NKVD, which led to his arrest.

  6. I'm going to answer with the third question, "How do you imagine the setting in the camp?" The protagonist Ivan Denisovich Shukhov is in camp in the Soviet gulag. As you said, the weather is extremely cold as the thermometer shows about thirty below zero every single day, and prisoners stay there for many years, just like the image you chose. They cannot even have hot soup and a place to get warm. It is surely not possible environment to live very healthy .