Essential Passage 1
Shukhov never slept through reveille but always got up at once. That gave him about an hour and a half to himself before the morning roll call, a time when anyone who knew what was what in the camps could always scrounge a cover for his mittens out of a piece of old lining. He could bring one of the big gang bosses his dry felt boots while he was still in his bunk, to save him the trouble of hanging around the pile of boots in his bare feel and trying to find his own. Or he could run around to one of the supply rooms where there might be a little job, sweeping or carrying something. Or he could go to the mess hall to pick up bowls from the tables and take piles of them to the dishwashers.
Ivan Denisovich Shukhov has been imprisoned by the Nazis during the reign of Stalin for allegedly spying for the Soviet Union during World War Two. The fact that he escapes from the prison proves to the Soviets that he had been there under his own will power. He and the only other prisoner to survive the escape are sent to Siberia for a term of ten years. This novel is the depiction of Ivan struggle to maintain his standards of behavior and virtue in the midst of extreme hardship and servitude. Although the conditions of the camp were brutal, the intention was not ethnic extermination, as with the Nazi concentration camps, so the prisoners have contact with the outside world, as well as opportunities within the camp of making a little money. Shukhov exemplifies more the Protestant work ethic than he does the Communist philosophy of all profits of labor belonging to the proletariat as a whole. These small errands give him enough money to meet some of the legitimate opportunities in the camp to purchase goods, such as tobacco.
Essential Passage 2
Shukhov sort of liked the way they pointed at him—the lucky guy nearly through with his sentence. But he didn’t really believe it. Take the fellows who should’ve been let out in the war. They were all kept in till forty-six—“till further notice.” And then those with three years who’d gotten five more slapped on. They twisted the law any way they wanted. You finished a ten-year stretch and they gave you another one. Or if not, they still wouldn’t let you go home.
But sometimes you got a kind of funny feeling inside. Maybe your number really would come up one day. God, just to think you might walk out and go home!
But old camp hands never said anything like that out loud. Shukhov said to Kilgas: “Don’t start counting up all the years you’ve got to go. Whether you’ll be here for the whole twenty-five years or not is anybody’s guess. All I know is I’ve done eight of mine, that’s for sure.”
So you just went on living like this, with your eyes on the ground, and you had no time to think about how you got in and when you’d get out.
Shukhov and some of the other prisoners are outside, constructing a building in the camp. Shukhov is determined to do his job of brick-laying well. During a break for supplies, Shukhov and the others are huddled around the stove, trying to warm up and dry out a bit. The understood rule was never to put your feet with your boots too near the stove, because the leather would crack and felt boots would only steam and get damp, leaving the feet still cold. One of the other prisoners, Kilgas, jokes that Shukhov does not have to worry, since he has “one foot out of here already,” meaning that Shokhov’s sentence is almost complete. Shukhov had been sent to the...
(The entire section is 1521 words.)