Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The clang of the wake-up call at five a.m. starts the day for Ivan Denisovich and hundreds of other prisoners at a bleak Siberian labor camp. In this short novel, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn offers the reader a view of the realities of life behind the barbed wire. Men struggle to get enough food in the mess hall. They try to keep themselves from freezing in below-zero temperatures. They obey the arbitrary rules of the armed guards and the orders of a few prisoners who have ingratiated themselves with the powers that be and have become camp leaders. They avoid being sent to the punishment cells, where men can weaken and die in a few days. They swear obscenely at one another and at the system. They work when they can and rest when they can, saving their strength to live another day.

The camp is presented through the eyes of a middle-aged man from a peasant village, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. He was sentenced to ten years of hard labor after he had been falsely accused of spying for the Germans during World War II. With no chance for appeal, Ivan was sent off to the camp system, the Gulag. Every day, he tries simply to get by as best he can. He generally obeys the rules, takes small pleasures in small things, and stoically awaits the end of his sentence.

The plot of the story is simply the events of an ordinary day. It is a relatively good day for Ivan. He avoids the punishment cells. He must work outside, building a wall,...

(The entire section is 587 words.)