Unsurprisingly, Solzhenitsyn's narrative is from his title character's point of view. The result of this decision is that we see the situations and the characters as Shukhov sees them, not from an omniscient perspective, though it is a third-person account. What, one might ask, does an author gain or lose...
Unsurprisingly, Solzhenitsyn's narrative is from his title character's point of view. The result of this decision is that we see the situations and the characters as Shukhov sees them, not from an omniscient perspective, though it is a third-person account. What, one might ask, does an author gain or lose by presenting the scenario this way?
In this case, it has the effect of convincing us, as readers, that the story is probably Solzhenitsyn's own history, even though it's not given in the first person. Paradoxically, a first-person narrative might weaken the objectivity of his account of events. His first readers would have known it was his own story anyway, because the novel was published with Khrushchev's approval as an indictment of the Stalinist system under which the author had been imprisoned. But even if we know nothing about Solzhenitsyn, the manner in which Shukhov sees himself and sees the others has a special kind of veracity to it.
This is partly because the writing style, at least as it comes across in translation, is totally unsentimental. It has the same features Orwell described in Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon : "the grownup quality, [and] the lack of surprise or denunciation." The narrative is effective because of the slow accumulation of detail given us. Instead of a large amount of interior monologue, the activities we see Shukhov engaged in allow us to get inside his head. The action is like a series of snapshots. Perhaps any novel is like this to an extent, but One Day in the Life is possibly more effective simply for being so fast-moving and streamlined, as these snapshots of life in the gulag are rapidly shown to us.
A sample of details we might look at follows. Some of the characters have retained their religious beliefs, and most have not. We're shown Alyoshka "the Baptist" (unusual in Russia, obviously, even before it became an officially atheistic state) who is copying the Gospels in his notebook. A Western Ukrainian "still knows how to cross himself," which the Russians no longer remember. Shukhov must be so careful about his boots that he takes them off and washes the floor in his bare feet. The Ukrainians, in addition to retaining religion, are polite because they address you by your full name (this means first name plus patronymic). Men are dying for a few puffs of tobacco. The "Captain" is a former naval commander used to giving orders, and rather pathetically, he is still trying to do so although he's a prisoner. Shukhov overhears a conversation in which men are discussing Eisenstein's films and their aesthetic versus propagandistic attributes.
The above grab-bag of observations and events are seemingly disconnected, but this is the way the narrative becomes effective: by showing these characters going about their business of survival in the harshest of conditions. Solzhenitsyn's technique is less to tell us explicit things about them than it is to allow us to draw conclusions about them from the external environment that unforgivingly impinges upon them at every moment.