What are the different attitudes and factors that help prisoners survive the gulag?

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bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ivan's cleverness and resourcefulness are one aspect of his character that helps him to survive. When a guard was going to sentence Ivan to ten days in the guardhouse, he discovers the guard just needs someone to mop the guardhouse floor, and Ivan convinces the guard to let him off of his punishment and go back to his barracks. Ivan's skills allowed him to live a little better since he didn't get packets from home. He hides his own trowel for laying bricks, and he's able to steal extra bowls of oatmeal. Even though he's not super intelligent, he spends much of his time thinking of ways to survive. Ivan won't do certain things, such as taking bribes or begging. He knows what he has to do to survive and is determined he will survive. He's decent and perseveres against all attempts to take away his humanity.

Most important to Ivan and his fellow prisoners is their ability to keep their dignity no matter what's done to them. They are still able to have a sense of identity even when they're referred to as numbers instead of names. They also depend on and help each other, showing how important dignity and the community are.

At the end of his day, Ivan is pleased that his day went well. He survived another day, just one of thousands in his sentence. He survives each day by being satisfied with small victories, such as getting extra food.

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