How does One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich reflect the values of society outside of the prison, while talking about life inside the prison?

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

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One way in which life in the Soviet Union is commented on is through the theme of crime and punishment. The novel presents a series of "offences" or "crimes" that have resulted in the prisoners ending up in this gulag and living in the sub-human conditions that they face on a daily basis. Solzhenitsyn deliberately highlights how unjust this punishment is by the nature of these so-called "crimes": Tyurin for example is imprisoned for nothing worse than being the son of a peasant farmer, and Gopchik's crime was to take supplies to freedom fighters hiding in the woods. In the same way, once in the gulag, the prisoners are subjected to absurd notions of what a "crime" is and face punishment for doing things that they either have no control over, such as when Shukhov is threated with a spell in the hole for simply being ill, or doing something that is not a crime in anybody's estimation, such as when Buynovsky is put in the hole for ten days for simply trying to warm himself with a flannel vest. The camp, just like the Soviet Union, is presented as an absurd place where rules change so quickly and are decided by whims and caprice more than common sense. Note how this produces automatic wariness in the prisoners, and especially in Shukhov:

He hadn't remembered having anything forbidden, but wariness had become second nature after eight years inside.

The text presents us with a world where constant wariness is vital in order to survive. As the rules are so arbitary and bear no relation to common sense or logic, the camp acts as a microcosm of the Soviet State where rules are absurd.

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