One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich ( Odin den' Ivana Denisovicha ɐˈdʲin ˈdʲenʲ ɪˈvanə dʲɪˈnʲisəvʲɪtʃə) is a novel written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was aRussian and Soviet novelist, dramatist, and historian. Through his often-suppressed writings, he helped to raise global awareness of the Gulag, the Soviet Union's forced labor camp system – particularly in The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of...

, first published in November 1962 in the Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 literary magazine Novy Mir
Novy Mir
Novy Mir is a Russian language literary magazine that has been published in Moscow since January 1925. It was supposed to be modelled on the popular pre-Soviet literary magazine Mir Bozhy , which was published from 1892 to 1906, and its follow-up, Sovremenny Mir , which was published 1906-1917...

 (New World). The story is set in a Soviet labor camp in the 1950s, and describes a single day of an ordinary prisoner, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. Its publication was an extraordinary event in Soviet literary history—never before had an account of Stalinist repression been openly distributed. The editor of Novy Mir, Aleksandr Tvardovsky
Aleksandr Tvardovsky
Aleksandr Trifonovich Tvardovsky was a Soviet poet, chief editor of Novy Mir literary magazine from 1950 to 1954 and 1958 to 1970...

, wrote a short introduction for the issue, titled "Instead of a Foreword," to prepare the journal's readers for what they were about to experience.


At least five English translations have been made. Of those, the translation by Ralph Parker (New York: Dutton, 1963) was the first to be published, followed by the translation by Ronald Hingley and Max Hayward (New York: Praeger, 1963), the translation by Bela Von Block (New York: Lancer 1963), the translation by Gillon Aitken (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1971). The fifth translation is by H.T. Willetts (New York: Noonday/Farrar Straus Giroux, 1991) the only one that is based on the canonical Russian text and the only one authorized by Solzhenitsyn. The English spelling of some character names differ slightly among the translations; those below are from the Hingley and Hayward translation.


Ivan Denisovich Shukhov has been sentenced to a camp in the Soviet gulag
The Gulag was the government agency that administered the main Soviet forced labor camp systems. While the camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners, large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as NKVD troikas and other instruments of...

 system, accused of becoming a spy after being captured by the Germans as a prisoner of war
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. He is innocent but is nonetheless punished by the government for being a spy. The final paragraph suggests that Shukhov serves ten years.

The day begins with Shukhov waking up sick. For waking late, he is sent to the guardhouse and forced to clean it—a minor punishment compared to others mentioned in the book. When Shukhov is finally able to leave the guardhouse, he goes to the dispensary to report his illness. Since it is late in the morning by now, the orderly is unable to exempt any more workers, and Shukhov must work regardless.

The rest of the day mainly speaks of Shukhov's squad (the 104th, which has 24 members), their allegiance to the squad leader, and the work that the prisoners (zeks) do—for example, at a brutal construction site where the cold freezes the mortar used for bricklaying if not applied quickly enough. Solzhenitsyn also details the methods used by the prisoners for survival; the whole camp lives by the rule of survival of the fittest. Tiurin, the foreman of gang 104 is strict but kind, and the squad grows to like him more as the book goes on. Though a "morose" man, Tiurin is liked because he understands the prisoners and he tells them a lot and does a lot to help them. Shukhov is one of the hardest workers in the squad and is generally well respected. Rations at the camp are scant, but for Shukhov, they are one of the few things to live for. He conserves the food that he receives and is always watchful for any item that he can hide and trade for food at a later date.

At the end of the day, Shukhov is able to provide a few special services for Tsezar (Caesar), an intellectual who is able to get out of manual labor and do office work instead. Tsezar is most notable, however, for receiving packages of food from his family. Shukhov is able to get a small share of Tsezar's packages by standing in lines for him. Shukhov's day ends up being productive, even "almost happy": "Shukhov went to sleep fully content. He'd had many strokes of luck that day." (p.139).

Those in the camps found everyday life extremely difficult. For example, one rule states that if the thermometer reaches -41 °C, then the prisoners are exempt from outdoor labor that day—anything above that was considered bearable. The reader is reminded in passing through Shukhov's matter-of-fact thoughts of the harshness of the conditions, worsened by the inadequate bedding and clothing. The boots assigned to the zeks rarely fit, in addition cloth had to be used or taken out, for example, and the thin mittens issued were easily ripped.

The prisoners were assigned numbers for easy identification and in an effort to dehumanize them; Ivan Denisovich's prisoner number was Щ-854. Each day, the squad leader would receive their assignment of the day, and the squad would then be fed according to how they performed. Prisoners in each squad were thus forced to work together and to pressure each other to get their work done. If any prisoner was slacking, the whole squad would be punished. Despite this, Solzhenitsyn shows that a surprising loyalty could exist among the work gang members, with Shukhov teaming up with other prisoners to steal felt and extra bowls of soup; even the squad leader defies the authorities by tar papering over the windows at their work site. Indeed, only through such solidarity can the prisoners do anything more than survive from day to day.

The 104th

The 104th was a labour camp team to which the main protagonist, Ivan Denisovich, belonged. Other members comprise the following list. Although there were over 20 members in the team the book outlines these characters especially.
  • Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, the protagonist of the novel. The reader is able to see Russian camp life through Denisovich's eyes. Information is given through his thoughts, feelings and actions which portray camp life through many of its restricted activities.
  • Alyosha (Alyoshka), a Baptist
    Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

    . He believes that being imprisoned is an earned thing, since it allows him to reflect more on God and Jesus. Alyosha is, surprisingly, able to hide part of a Bible
    The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

     in the barracks
    Barracks are specialised buildings for permanent military accommodation; the word may apply to separate housing blocks or to complete complexes. Their main object is to separate soldiers from the civilian population and reinforce discipline, training and esprit de corps. They were sometimes called...

    . Shukhov responds to his beliefs by saying that he believes in God but not heaven or hell, nor in spending much time on the issue.
  • Gopchik, a young member of the squad who works hard and for whom Shukhov has fatherly feelings, as he reminds Shukhov of his dead son. Gopchik was imprisoned for taking food to Ukrainian rebels
    Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists
    The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists is a Ukrainian political organization which as a movement originally was created in 1929 in Western Ukraine . The OUN accepted violence as an acceptable tool in the fight against foreign and domestic enemies particularly Poland and Russia...

    . Shukhov believes Gopchik has the knowledge and adjustment skills to advance far at the camp.
  • Andrey Prokofyevich Tiurin (Tyurin), the foreman/squad leader for the 104th, who has been in the camp for 19 years. Tiurin likes Shukhov and gives him some of the better jobs. This is only part of the hierarchy: Tiurin must argue for better jobs and wages from the camp officers in order to please the squad, who then must work hard in order to please the camp officers and get larger rations.
  • Fetiukov (Fetyukov), a member of the squad who has thrown away all of his dignity in the camps and is particularly seen as a lowlife by Shukhov and the other camp members. He shamelessly scrounges for bits of food and tobacco.
  • Tzesar Markovich (Caesar), an inmate who works in the camp offices and has been given other special privileges, such as being allowed to wear his civilian fur hat, instead of it being given to the Personal Property department. A cultured man, Tzesar discusses film with Buynovsky. His somewhat higher class background assures him food parcels.
  • Buinovsky (Buynovsky, "The Captain"), a former Soviet Naval captain. A relative newcomer to the camp, Buynovsky was imprisoned when an admiral on a British cruiser on which he had served as a naval liaison sent him a gift. In the camp, Buynovsky has not yet learned to be submissive before the warders.
  • Pavlo, a Ukrainian who serves as deputy foreman/squad leader and assists Tiurin in directing the 104th, especially when Tiurin is absent.
  • Johann Kilgas, the leading worker of the 104th squad along with Shukhov. Originally a Latvia
    Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

    n, he speaks Russian like a native, having learned the language in his childhood. Kilgas is popular with his team for making jokes.
  • Senka, a member of the 104th who became deaf from intense fighting during World War II, and having escaped and been recaptured three times by the Germans ended up in Buchenwald Concentration Camp.


The themes of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich center on authoritative oppression
Oppression is the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner. It can also be defined as an act or instance of oppressing, the state of being oppressed, and the feeling of being heavily burdened, mentally or physically, by troubles, adverse conditions, and...

 and camp survival. Specifically discussed is the cruelty and spite
In fair division problems, spite is a phenomenon that occurs when a player's value of an allocation decreases when one or more other players' valuation increases...

 towards the fellow man, namely from prison officials. Solzhenitsyn explains through Ivan Denisovich that everything is managed by the camp commandment up to the point where time feels unnoticed; the prisoners always have work to do and never any free time to discuss important issues. Survival is of the utmost importance to prisoners. Attitude is another crucial factor in survival. Since prisoners were each assigned a grade it was considered good etiquette to obey. This is outlined through the character of Fetiukov, a ministry worker who let himself into prison and scarcely follows prison etiquette. Another such incident involves Buinovsky, a former naval captain, who is punished for defending himself and others during an early morning frisking
Frisking is a search of a person's outer clothing wherein a person runs his or her hands along the outer garments to detect any concealed weapons or contraband.-Stop and frisk:...



Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had first-hand experience in the Soviet labor camps called the Gulag
The Gulag was the government agency that administered the main Soviet forced labor camp systems. While the camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners, large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as NKVD troikas and other instruments of...

, having been imprisoned from 1945 to 1953 for writing a derogatory comment in letters to friends about the conduct of the war by Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

, whom he referred to by epithets such as "the master" and "the boss". He used the epithet "old man whiskers" in his novel, where it is translated as "Old Whiskers" or "Old Man Whiskers". The name was considered offensive and derogatory; however, prisoners were free to call Stalin whatever they liked "Somebody in the room was bellowing: 'Old Man Whiskers won't ever let you go! He wouldn't trust his own brother, let alone a bunch of cretins like you!"

After being released from the exile that followed his imprisonment, Solzhenitsyn began writing One Day in 1957. In 1962, he submitted his manuscript to Novy Mir
Novy Mir
Novy Mir is a Russian language literary magazine that has been published in Moscow since January 1925. It was supposed to be modelled on the popular pre-Soviet literary magazine Mir Bozhy , which was published from 1892 to 1906, and its follow-up, Sovremenny Mir , which was published 1906-1917...

, a Russian literary magazine. The editor, Aleksandr Tvardovsky
Aleksandr Tvardovsky
Aleksandr Trifonovich Tvardovsky was a Soviet poet, chief editor of Novy Mir literary magazine from 1950 to 1954 and 1958 to 1970...

, was so impressed with this detailed description of life in the labor camps, that he submitted the manuscript to the Communist Party Central Committee
Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union , abbreviated in Russian as ЦК, "Tse-ka", earlier was also called as the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party ...

 for approval to publish it, because until then Soviet writers had only been allowed to refer to the camps. From there it was sent to the de-Stalinist
De-Stalinization refers to the process of eliminating the cult of personality, Stalinist political system and the Gulag labour-camp system created by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Stalin was succeeded by a collective leadership after his death in March 1953...

Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev led the Soviet Union during part of the Cold War. He served as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964, and as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Premier, from 1958 to 1964...

, who, despite the objections of some top party members, ultimately authorized its publication with some censorship of the text. After the novel was sent to the editor, Aleksandr Tvardovsky of Novy Mir, it was subsequently published in November 1962

The labour camp described in the book was home to Solzhenitsyn for a while as he served his term, located in Karaganda
Karagandy , more commonly known by its Russian name Karaganda, , is the capital of Karagandy Province in Kazakhstan. It is the fourth most populous city in Kazakhstan, behind Almaty , Astana and Shymkent, with a population of 471,800 . In the 1940s up to 70% of the city's inhabitants were ethnic...

 in northern Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan , officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of is greater than Western Europe...



One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was specifically mentioned in the Nobel Prize presentation speech when the Nobel Committee
Swedish Academy
The Swedish Academy , founded in 1786 by King Gustav III, is one of the Royal Academies of Sweden.-History:The Swedish Academy was founded in 1786 by King Gustav III. Modelled after the Académie française, it has 18 members. The motto of the Academy is "Talent and Taste"...

 awarded Solzhenitsyn the Nobel Prize in Literature
Nobel Prize in Literature
Since 1901, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded annually to an author from any country who has, in the words from the will of Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction"...

 in 1970. With the publication of One Day Solzhenitsyn had also written four more books, three in 1963 and a fourth in 1966 which cataclysmically led to the controversy of his publications. In 1968 Solzhenitsyn was accused by the Literary Gazette
Literaturnaya Gazeta
Literaturnaya Gazeta is a weekly cultural and political newspaper published in Russia and Soviet Union.- Overview :...

, a Soviet newspaper, of not following Soviet principles. The Gazettes editors also made claims that Solzhenitsyn was opposing the basic principles of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, his style of writing had been controversial with many Soviet literary critics especially with the publication of "One Day...". This criticism
Criticism is the judgement of the merits and faults of the work or actions of an individual or group by another . To criticize does not necessarily imply to find fault, but the word is often taken to mean the simple expression of an objection against prejudice, or a disapproval.Another meaning of...

 made by the paper gave rise to further accusation
*Accusation can mean:*The Accusation, a 1951 Italian film*Criminal accusation*False accusations*For other meanings, see wikt:accusation...

s that Solzhenitsyn had turned from a Soviet Russian into a Soviet enemy, therefore he was branded as an enemy of the state
Enemy of the state
An enemy of the state is a person accused of certain crimes against the state, such as treason. Describing individuals in this way is sometimes a manifestation of political repression. For example, an authoritarian regime may purport to maintain national security by describing social or political...

, who, according to the Gazette had been supporting non-Soviet ideological stances since 1967, perhaps even longer. He, in addition, was accused of de-Stalinisation. The reviews were particularly damaging. Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Writers' Union in 1969. He was arrested, then deported in 1974. The novella had sold over 95,000 copies when it was released throughout the 1960s.


Often considered the most powerful indictment of the USSR's gulag ever made, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich forced Western intellectuals to acknowledge their sins of omission in regards to the Soviet human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

 record. A decade later at a US-Soviet summit a human rights agenda was created as a topic of concern. It appeared on the Independent newspaper's poll of the Top 100 books, which surveyed more than 25,000 people.


A one-hour dramatization for television, made for NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

 in 1963, starred Jason Robards Jr. in the title role and was broadcast on November 8, 1963. A 1970 film adaptation
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1970 film)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a joint Norwegian-British 1970 film based on the novel by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn with the same name...

 based on the novella starred British actor Tom Courtenay
Tom Courtenay
Sir Thomas Daniel "Tom" Courtenay is an English actor who came to prominence in the early 1960s with a succession of films including The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner , Billy Liar , and Dr. Zhivago . Since the mid-1960s he has been known primarily for his work in the theatre...

 in the title role. Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

 banned the film from public view, fearing that it could hurt external relations with its eastern neighbor
Finlandization is a term used to describe the influence that one powerful country may have on the policies of a smaller neighboring country.It is generally considered to be pejorative, originating in West German political debate of the late 1960s and 1970s...



  • Feuer, Kathryn (Ed). Solzhenitsyn: A collection of Critical Essays. (1976). Spectrum Books, ISBN 0-13-822619
  • Moody, Christopher. Solzhenitsyn. (1973). Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh ISBN 0-05-002600-3
  • Labedz, Leopold. Solzhenitsyn: A documentary record. (1970). Penguin ISBN 0-014-00.3395.5
  • Scammell, Michael. Solzhenitsyn. (1986). Paladin. ISBN 0-586-08538-6
  • Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. Invisible Allies. (Translated by Alexis Klimoff and Michael Nicholson). (1995). The Harvill Press ISBN 1-86046-259-6
  • Grazzini, Giovanni. Solzhenitsyn. (Translated by Eric Mosbacher) (1971). Michael Joseph, ISBN 0-7181-1068-4
  • Burg, David; Feifer, George. Solzhenitsyn: A Biography. (1972). ISBN 0-340-16593-6
  • Medvedev, Zhores. 10 Years After Ivan Denisovich. (Translated by Hilary Steinberg). (1973). Macmillan, London.SBN 33-15217-4
  • Rothberg, Abraham. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Major Novels. (1971). Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-0668-4
  • Dostoevsky's The House of the Dead

External links

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