Cancer Ward is also based on Solzhenitsyn’s personal experiences, this time on his bout with cancer. The protagonist, Oleg Kostoglotov, a thirty-four-year-old political exile, is afflicted with cancer in the prime of his life and approaches it with a mixture of hope and despair. The entire novel takes place in a cancer hospital separated from the world; this circumstance makes for an oppressive atmosphere of isolation, but it also enables the patients to turn inward and reexamine their past. Solzhenitsyn again creates a score of characters, each different in his or her reaction to the illness and in the ability to cope with it, yet all coming to the same conclusion that this experience is an ultimate test of their will to survive, not all of which depends on the doctors and medicines alone. Predictably, all patients show different fortitude and reaction to the blow that fate has dealt them.
In addition to the patients’ silent but excruciating process of reexamination, there is a relationship between doctors and patients to be considered. All doctors make gallant efforts to save their patients, fully aware that their resources are limited; in fact, the main doctor eventually succumbs to cancer herself. Solzhenitsyn uses this relationship to test the ability of medical science to save lives, and also to voice, through Kostoglotov and the doctors, his views about the meaning of life in general. The final outcome, illustrated by the...
(The entire section is 572 words.)