Why is Shukhov's spoon an important symbol in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shukhov's spoon is an important symbol because its symbolism (1) adds to his characterization and (2) reveals how he survives prison camp. [It might be noted that "Shukhov" is another name for Ivan Denisovich: "Shukhov dashed in ... 'Didn't land in the hole, then, Ivan Denisovich?'"]The spoon symbolizes survival and human dignity.

Two symbolic representations related to the spoon build characterization: (1) that he made it himself and (2) that he remembers to bring it with him even in unexpected situations. The first develops Shukhov as an ingenious, industrious man, who does not yield passively to his situation: he is active in bettering it, even if in only the smallest degree. The second develops him as quick thinking, alert and conscious of self-preservation: taking care of minute details can mean the difference between survival and death.

[Shukhov] took the bucket, and just as he was, without mittens (he'd left them under the pillow in the rush), went out to the well.... [He'd] tossed his foot rags ... (his spoon tinkled as it hit the floor — he'd had to get ready for the hole in a hurry, but he still hadn't forgotten his spoon)....

The spoon symbolism reveals how Shukhov survives in prison camp. Shukhov carries his spoon everywhere he goes, even if suddenly call to some other task. For instance, when he lies in bed too long on the morning the story opens and is punished by Ivan-and-a-half, he forgets his mittens under his pillow thus is forced to draw water from a frozen well with a frozen rope, yet he does remember to put his spoon in his felt boot. He knows what is needed to survive. Then, when he eats his skilly and porridge with his spoon, Shukhov insists on removing his cap. This is a sign of recognition of his dignity and ultimate importance. Thus the spoon symbols reveal that he survived through remembering the foremost needs of life and the foremost value of life: nourishment and dignity.

Next, he removed his cap from his shaven head — however cold it was, he wouldn't let himself eat with his cap on

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