In writing The First Circle, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn included some important autobiographical elements. Like Nerzhin, Solzhenitsyn was a captain in the Soviet army, was arrested for making derogatory remarks about Stalin in a private letter, and was sentenced to eight years in prison. Solzhenitsyn incorporated his personal experiences when creating fictitious characters. At the same time, autobiography was not his primary intent in writing the novel. He used it to draw a bleak picture of the Communist system under Stalin, as he had done in almost all his works.
The Russian, German, and other prisoners at Mavrino are scientists and intellectuals doing research on various projects useful to the state, including those on radio and telephone technology. The novel tells the story of the interrelationships of people in prison whose fate is caused by external political circumstances. Since Solzhenitsyn employs a realist approach, the novel describes documentarily and historically happenings in the Soviet Union in the late 1940’s. Soviet society is understandably depicted through the prisoners’ discussions as bleak. Solzhenitsyn goes beyond the realist description of the prisoners’ conditions. His characters question several premises of their society: the right of one man to rule over others by force, the moral justification of a state built by forced labor, the discrepancy between ideal and reality, the use of technology in the service of an unjust...
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