How does the narrative technique in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich help with characterization?

1 Answer | Add Yours

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The narrative perspective of this illuminating text is third person limited. This means that the story is told by an external narrator to the story who is able to see everything that happens but is only privy to the thoughts and feelings of one particular character, which is of course Ivan Denisovich. The narrative therefore includes the full thoughts and feelings of Ivan but of no other characters, and the narrative perspective therefore only allows for general remarks to be made about others. For example, note how the external narrator describes the following scene:

But now all at once something happened in the column, like a wave going through it… . The fellows in the back—that's where Shukhov was—had to run now …

Whilst the point of view allows for such comments to be made about what happens to the prisoners, it does allow for a fully developed psychological presentation of Ivan Denisovich. Consider the following quote that describes his approach to his new task:

His mind and his eyes were studying the wall, the façade of the Power Station, two cinder blocks thick, as it showed from under the ice. Whoever had been laying there before was either a bungler or a slacker. Shukhov would get to know every inch of that wall as if he owned it.

The narrative choice allows the reader to fully understand and be aware of the inner character of Ivan and the pride that he takes in his work. Even though he is a prisoner and he has no reason to care about the work he has been ordered to do, he takes incredible pride in his work and is obviously dismissive of the efforts of the person who was working there before, who Ivan dismisses as a "bungler" and a "slacker." Given the title of this novel, the narrative perspective is therefore important in helping to build up a psychologically developed portrait of this central character centred on his thoughts and feelings.


We’ve answered 317,830 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question