One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Essential Quotes by Theme: Human Dignity

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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.)