Reveille begins the day for Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a victim of the mass imprisonments that took place in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era. Ivan has been unjustly sentenced to ten years imprisonment on spurious charges of espionage while serving in the Soviet Army during World War II. He is serving his term in a labor camp in a remote corner of Siberia. It is the dead of winter, and Ivan wakes up feeling ill. He intends to report for sick call.
Ivan’s plan to report for sick call is apparently thwarted when a camp guard detains him for violating a rule: not getting up at reveille. Ivan is told he will be sentenced to ten days in the guardhouse but soon discovers the prison guard only wants someone to mop the guardhouse floor. Having been thus “let off,” Ivan adroitly manages to get out of the work he was assigned as punishment and returns to his barracks. The sort of adroitness he demonstrates in this incident is a necessary characteristic for survival in the brutal environment of the camp.
Ivan then begins the routine of his day. After a trip to the mess hall, he still has time to go to the infirmary and try to get on sick call. At the infirmary, he is turned down because the daily quota of two prisoners exempted from work because of sickness has already been filled. A bureaucratic culture rules the camp. In contrast to the filth of the barracks and the mess hall, the infirmary is clean, quiet, orderly, and warm. When Ivan enters, the doctors are still asleep. The orderly on duty is writing not a medical report but poetry for the doctor in charge. The orderly, one of the better-off prisoners, has an easy job and some privileges because of his education level. There is a definite hierarchy in the camp, even among the prisoners, or “zeks.”
Ivan reports to his squad, which moves out to the work site. As the squad members begin their work, they start telling the stories of their lives. The prison camp is a microcosm of Soviet RussiaL Tiurin, the squad leader, has been imprisoned because his father was a kulak (a well-to-do peasant), a member of a group persecuted by Stalin. Senka is a deaf former soldier who survived the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald; Fetikov, a former high-ranking member of the Communist Party, was arrested in one of Stalin’s purges; Captain Buinovsky is also a loyal Communist and a Soviet naval captain unjustly accused of spying; Alyosha, a Baptist, has been imprisoned for practicing his religion; Tsezar is an intellectual. These men together with other squad members, struggle through the day with Ivan,...
(The entire section is 1056 words.)