In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, why does Solzhenitsyn name Y-81 by a number?

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

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The totality of the power of the Russian government is shown in its stripping the prisoners of all shreds of their former life. The way that they are not referred to by their names but by a combination of numbers and letters is just one more way in which the state hopes to erase all traces of personal identity and humanity. Shukhov, for example is referred to as "Shcha-854." Note how this theme of state control is highlighted in the following conversation:

"Since then it’s been decreed that the sun is highest at one o’clock."
"Who decreed that?"
"The Soviet government."

This half-joking exchange between Buynovsky and Shukhov indicates the way that the Russian state saw itself as being omnipotent, even when reality dictates otherwise. This indicates the way that naming the prisoners by numbers and letters alone supports the way that the Russian government treats its prisoners: they have no separate identity apart from the bureaucratic one that the government gives them. All vestiges of their former life are stripped away. This is something that Shukhov has to fight against with all of his strength in order to maintain his sense of identity, and important symbols, such as removing his cap before he eats, are very powerful ways that he uses to assert his own identity. Y-81 is therefore named in this way to highlight the state's attempt to control not only the lives of its prisoners but their very identity too.

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