Throughout this deceptively simple story, Solzhenitsyn reflects on the nature of the Soviet Union and its Communist system. The protagonist, Ivan, is not a troublemaker, but he is a firm opponent of the regime. He does his best to maintain bits of private property, even though they are only personal items. He once was issued a pair of leather boots, which he cared for lovingly, cleaning them and softening them with grease. The authorities, however, demanded that all leather boots be returned to the warehouse when winter felt boots were issued, and Ivan did not have a prayer of getting his own leather ones back in the spring. At the job site, Ivan carefully kept his own personal trowel for laying cement blocks, rather than taking the shoddy one from the common tool shed. The message is clear: Private property and private enterprise is superior to communism.
Religion is another major theme in the novel. Ivan believes in God, but he has little use for institutional religion. The Russian Orthodox priest in his village, he recalls, was in league with the government authorities to keep his own privileges. Alyosha is a genuine Christian, a dedicated member of a baptist sect. He secretly reads from the Bible whenever he can, and his behavior is full of Christian charity, even in the harsh camp environment.
The dignity of work is important. Ivan dreads the punishment cells not only because they are cold and unhealthy but also because prisoners there...
(The entire section is 591 words.)