A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisivich is set in the
forced-labor camp of Communist Russia during a
time of great internal struggle. The story
describes a typical day in the life of an inmate
and follows a prisoner through 24 hours of his
When first published in 1962, it brought
to the world's attention the horrors of
life for political dissidents in the Russian
Shukhov never overslept. He was always up at the
call. That way he had an hour and a half all to
himself before work parade – time for a man who
knew his way around to earn a bit on the side. He
could stitch covers for somebody's mittens from a
piece of old lining. Rush around the store rooms
looking for odd jobs – sweeping up or running
errands. Go to the mess to stack bowls and carry
them to the washers-up. You'd get something to
eat, but there were too many volunteers, swarms
of them. And the worst of it was that if there was
anything left in a bowl you couldn't help licking it.
Shukhov always got up at once. Not today though.
Hadn't felt right since the night before – had the
shivers, and some sort of ache. And hadn't really
got warm all night. In his sleep he kept fancying he
was seriously ill, then feeling a bit better. Kept
hoping morning would never come.
But morning arrived on time. He hoped today he
could finally be warm, if even for a little while.
Some hope of getting warm with a thick scab
of ice on the windows, and white cobwebs of
hoar frost where the walks of the huge hut
met the ceiling. Shukhov still didn't get up.
He lay on top on a four-man bunk, with his
blanket and jacket over his head, and both
feet squeezed into one turned-sleeve of his
Through the character of Shukhov and his actions,
Solzhenitsyn demonstrates that humanity can survive
even the harshest conditions. Though the prison camp
system seeks to destroy, by its very nature, expression
of fellow-feeling and actions based on morals and
ethics, Shukhov and his fellow prisoners maintain their
humanity through small acts and rituals.