Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ivan Denisovich

Ivan Denisovich (ee-VAN deh-NIH-soh-vihch), sometimes called Shukov (SHEW-kov), a prisoner in a Soviet camp. He is serving a ten-year sentence for having escaped from a German prisoner of war camp in World War II. Even though his actions were heroic, he had some contact with the West and so became suspect. He is not sunk in misery at this injustice; he remains tough, resilient, and determined to survive his sentence and preserve his own integrity. He does odd jobs to get a little tobacco or an ounce of bread. He has served eight years of his sentence, but he is careful not to anticipate freedom; he concentrates on surviving this one day. There are some defeats during the day. He is sent for punishment because he is sick in his bed at reveille. In addition, soon after this he cannot get on the sick list because the allotment already has been met. The rest of the day, however, is as good as it can be for a prisoner. He manages to steal some felt, which helps keep him and the others warm on the job. He feels useful and confident when he builds a wall with mortar and bricks. He tricks the cook and gets an extra bowl of gruel for lunch. Finally, when he returns from a day of hard labor, he stands in line to earn a bit of food from Caesar and buys some tobacco from the Latvians. He will not allow his wife to send him packages because that would decrease the amount of food for his family. He has something more important than outside help: the skill and intelligence to survive without compromising himself, even in...

(The entire section is 665 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

If the plot seems to be composed of largely trivial things, it is intentional. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wants nothing to be spectacular in his depiction of a typical day in a Soviet labor camp. He wants neither moral heroism nor sensational cruelty, because though each exists in the camps, these qualities do not define the daily experience. What Solzhenitsyn wants instead is for the reader to follow as closely as possible the thoughts and actions of one very unexceptional prisoner, Ivan Denisovich. Shukov is not particularly intelligent or even reflective. Instead, he spends almost all of his time thinking of ways to get an edge against extinction. A piece of metal becomes a potential tool with which he can earn extra food or tobacco. A favor done for another prisoner will earn a favor in return that will make his life a little longer and a little easier.

For all his ordinariness, however, Shukov is a character that the reader comes to admire. He is a survivor—crafty and courageous in small things when necessary. Also, very important in Solzhenitsyn’s world, there are things that Shukov will not do. He will not beg, unlike the pathetic Fetyukov. Nor will Shukov take bribes, a telling virtue in a society in which the oppressive bureaucracy has made under-the-table transactions the accepted way of life. In many ways, Shukov is a man of integrity, who knows intimately what he must do to survive and is determined to do so, but not at the cost of his...

(The entire section is 473 words.)


Ivan Denisovich Shukhov received a ten-year sentence because he was captured by the German Army in 1942. Although he escaped from his...

(The entire section is 438 words.)