Essential Quotes

Essential Quotes by Character: Ivan Denisovich Shukhov

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.)

Essential Quotes by Theme: Human Dignity

Essential Passage 1

Shukhov quickly finished up the job. There’s work and work. It’s like the two ends of a stick. If you’re working for human beings, then do a real job of it, but if you work for dopes, then you just go through the motions. Otherwise they’d all have kicked the bucket long ago. That was for sure.

At the beginning of the day, one of Shukhov’s duties is to mop the floor. Normally committed to do a good job in every task he undertakes, Shukhov makes an exception when mopping near the warder. He has no respect for the warder, who routinely treats the prisoners like trash. Shukhov mops so that the water wets the warder’s boots; the warder berates him and makes general comments about the types of men who inhabit the prison. Shukhov, however, is not fazed. Since the warder does not treat the prisoners with dignity, Shukhov returns the treatment in kind. The warder is not a “human being,” as Shukhov has defined him, so Shukhov just goes through the motions. Excellence of work is reserved for humans. Dignity—both the receiving and the withholding—is the foundation for the prisoner’s survival.

Essential Passage 2

He began to eat. He started with the watery stuff on the top and drank it right down. The warmth went through his body and his insides were sort of quivering waiting for that gruel to come down. It was great! This was what a prisoner lived for, this one little moment.

Shukhov didn’t have a grudge against the world now—about how long his sentence was, about how long their day was, about that Sunday they wouldn’t get. All he though now was: “We’ll get through! We’ll get through it all! And God grant it’ll all come to an end.”

At the end of the day, dinner has at last come. Having stood in line patiently, Shukhov is prepared to enjoy the best part of the day. Sitting at the table, he examines the contents of the soup. He finds some fish, small bits at least, in the bottom. Life is good. He glories in his food, this moment for which each prisoner lives, the simple pleasures that are, rather than what has been lost. He holds no bitterness. He does not resent the lost years of his life. He does not begrudge the prospect of having to work an extra Sunday. Instead, he is confident that he will come through this experience with dignity. He will survive as a human, not as an animal. Whether he is released on time, or whether more years are added on to his sentence, Shukhov vows to remain a man.

Essential Passage 3

Shukhov had been told that this old man’d been in camps and prisons more years than you could count and had never come under any amnesty. When one ten-year stretch was over they slapped on another. Shukhov took a good look at him close up. In the camp you could pick him out among all the men with their bent backs because he was straight as a ramrod. When he sat at the table it looked like he was sitting on something to raise himself up higher. There hadn’t been anything to shave off his head for a long time—he’d lost all his hair because of the good life. His eyes didn’t shift around the mess hall all the time to see what was going on, and he was staring over Shukhov’s head and looking at something nobody else could see. He ate his thin gruel with a worn old wooden spoon, and he took his time. He didn’t bend down low over the...

(The entire section is 1462 words.)