How does the structure in 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' contribute to its main concerns?
The structure of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which follows a single day in the life of the prisoner, reflects the book's central concern with day-to-day survival. Ivan doesn't think past surviving one day at a time because the conditions he faces in a Soviet prison camp in Siberia are so severe. The weather is freezing cold. The work is brutally hard. Food is scarce. The other prisoners will steal from you or block the heat from the stove in their own quest to survive. Getting sick is a constant fear. There is very little to look forward to in this bleak world.
By focusing in a detached way on the details of a single typical day, the book captures the reality of what life is like in a labor camp. We see how almost every minute Denisovich faces a challenge to survival. We see how the smallest pleasures magnify in such a situation. For example, Denisovich welcomes his brutally hard labor because it warms him up in the subzero weather and makes the time pass more quickly.
By the end of the day, the reader is convinced that he or she would not want to spend even one day in such a place. Yet at the end of the day, ironically, Denisovich can feel happy that he has had many "strokes of luck" that day, such as enjoying building a wall, not getting sick, managing to buy some tobacco, and, most of all, surviving to face another day.
This novella was written by a Soviet during the Soviet reign in Russia. After the Bolshevik revolution, the USSR came under the tyrannical leadership of Stalin, who persecuted, abused, and murdered many of his citizens. While things improved during Kruschev's reign, much of the repression was still in place, including the work camps.
The concern in this short novel is to demonstrate the dehumanization of Russian citizens during this reign. They are treated like animals, or more accurately, like the machinery of the state. Their usefulness existed only in their ability to produce, and little was done to recognize them as individuals or treat them as humans. Readers see this in the number identification tags of the work camp prisoners, who have been denied their right to a name. Solzhenitsyn was seeking to expose the horrors that existed.
Instead of using emotional tactics, the author wrote in a more impersonal way. He used the third person narrative instead of the first, and avoided needless words, particularly excessive description. This echoes the lack of emotion and compassion with which the prisoners were treated. In addition, Solzhenitsyn chooses to use the novella, and limit the story to one day. More days, more information, could easily distract the reader. A shorter, more concise portrayal of facts is more powerful and convincing.
The novel portrays one day in the life of a prisoner who has been wrongly sentenced to a Soviet gulag for an infraction he did not commit. By focusing on just one day, from sunrise to sunset, Solzenitsyn is able to portray the way in which Shukhov, the protagonist, and his fellow inmates merely concentrate on survival. Their every moment is consecrated to survival of the harsh conditions and unending tedium of their lives.
Shukhov's failures, such as his inability to have the day off from work because he is sick, and his successes, such as earning some of Tsezar's package and having some kasha at dinner, are small and routine in nature. His life, in all its highs and lows, is concentrated on minute victories that enable him to survive. In so doing, he celebrates his victory over inhumanity and his ability to survive and find joy even in the midst of mind-numbing boredom and senseless brutality.