The publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962 created a sensation, both in the Soviet Union and abroad, for three reasons: The author was unknown, the novel showed a remarkable maturity for a novice, and the subject matter was daring and explosive. Solzhenitsyn was soon to become well known worldwide; he quickly proved that he is indeed an accomplished writer; and the subject matter soon ceased to be explosive, even unusual. Yet the novel continues to be praised as a genuine work of art.
To a degree, the reason for its high esteem lies in the novel’s remarkable stylistic simplicity. The novel describes one day in a Soviet concentration camp in the 1950’s, as experienced by the protagonist, carpenter Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, and a cast of supporting characters. The reader follows in detail every step of the inmates, from the reveille at dawn, through their work at building an edifice that they do not quite understand, until they return to barracks in the evening darkness. The author concentrates on Shukhov’s reactions to everyday happenings, on his ability to adapt to situations and, simply, to survive. Even though as a carpenter he cannot be taken to speak for the author, there is no doubt that many of Solzhenitsyn’s own experiences are reflected in Shukhov’s actions and reactions.
There is a deliberate reason for the author’s building of Shukhov’s character almost to the point of an archetype....
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