Written Task 2

Topics: Culture

Written task 2

Essay title: How and why is a social group represented in a particular way?

Title and author: “One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Part of the course: Part 3 – Literature in context

Key points for discussion:

• The novel “One Day in the Life of Denisovich” opens a window into the everyday life

of a prisoner in one of the Soviet Union’s Gulag with rich historical value, uncovering

the horrors in one of these “corrective labour camp”.

• From the novel we can see the omnipresence of a totalitarian regime, the inner

colonization of its people, the lack of privacy where the authorities are doing the

thinking for you.

• The broader scale of Russian society at that time is represented in the micro scale of

the G ulag character representative of the Russian diaspora.

• In the confinement of the camp, the juxtaposition between different characters

accentuate their personality and the struggle for human dignity in a world where

survival is all.

• The journey into a day o f an Everyman figure is a simple, yet compelling narrative

device that signifies the monotonous life and the horrendous condition that millions of

Russians had to endure under the Soviet regime.

• The book gave a voice to the silenced, to the oppressed, it ’s a cry out for human

freedom, against injustice not just in Russia but all over the world, exposing the

betrayal of a government that promised wellbeing for its people but failed to deliver.

• Art and how it can influence social transformation, Solzhenitsy n’s powerful insistence

that art and literature is imperative in the country sense of self and identity

How and why is a social group represented in a particular way?

Shrouded in mystery, no one knew what was going on inside Russia under the reign of

the red tsar – Stalin, it was not until the Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn opened a

window into this enigmatic world, did we catch a glimpse of the fate of millions of Russians

in the Soviet Union ; the novel “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” shook the world on

its feet, revealing the brutal horror and atrocious conditions that are unimaginable to the West.

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The book was modelled on his own experience in one of these forced labour camps, arrested

in 1945 for making derogatory remark s about the “Old Whiskers”, he witnessed first -hand for

eight years the greasing of the authority’s palms, the wicked cold, the scramble for an extra

bowl of soup…, all in all the zeks’ struggle for survival. With a firm belief in the power of art

and lite rature: “ the convincingness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable and it forces

even an opposing heart to surrender”, he was out to give a voice to the millions of Russians

who are oppressed , of the injustice and suffering they had to endure. Sol zhenitsyn used a

multitude of narrative devices to represent the zeks in one of these camps, which can be further

applied to the contemporary Russian society at large. The story follows S 854 – the protagonist

Ivan Denisovich Shukhov through one of the thr ee thousand six hundred and fifty -three days

of his stretch, symbolizing the monotonous life and the everyday struggle for survival. In the

confinement of the camp, characters are juxtaposed to accentuate their personality highlighting

the struggle for hum an dignity ; this is further developed with the use of binary oppositions, e.g.

death vs life, prison vs prisoners revealing the atrocities of the totalitarian regime.

Solzhenitsyn believed in the power of art, in particular , literature, for social

transformation, to “ to help mankind, in these its troubled hours, to see itself as it really is,

notwithstanding the indoctrinations of prejudiced people and parties” – as seen from the

author’s compelling Nobel Lecture . It’s a hist orical documentary of millions of lives under the

rule of a system that promised equality but thrived upon oppression of its people, the zeks were

portrayed with such verisimilitude as the author himself was once among their ranks, faced the

injustice as t hey did and witnessed the arbitrary nature of crime and punishment, further

revealed in the sardonic circumstance of Shukhov’s imprisonment: accused of a spy while

fighting on the front -line against the German army.

His work opened a window into one of Ru ssia’s most disenfranchised group – the zeks,

represented them in a precise and sincere way, and for the first time their lives were made open

to the outside world. Through representing the zeks, he also exposed the betrayal of the Soviet

government toward s its own people, the nature of its ideology, how centuries -old colonial

techniques used by powers such as Britain and France , to oppress and exert power over people

of a foreign country, were reincarnated in the form of inner colonization, now over its ow n

folks, it exerted power and indignation over the non -conformists. The Gulags were made to

cripple men’s thinking capabilities for themselves: “The authorities did his thinking for him

about everything”, however, this objective has failed to be realized, as Solzhenitsyn and other

authors have brought the truth out to light and given a voice to these people, liberating them

from the chains in thoughts that were imposed by the government and its false ideology .

In pursuance of this truth, the author utilized a multitude of narrative devices. The novel

describes a day in the life of Shukhov – the representative figure, this allows for a linear and

convenient narrative which symbolizes how monotonous and dreadful a life in the Gulag is,

extending to umb rella the contemporary Russian society. In the confinement of the camp ,

characters are juxtaposed to accentuate their personality. Two figures that stand in full contrast

are the protagonist and Fetyukov, Shukhov is hard -working and self -reliant, who manag ed to

accept his camp life and build a meaningful existence for himself, however Fetyukov is the

undignified greedy vagabond of the 104 th. W hile Shukhov worked hard to earn a second bowl

of skilly from Tsezar, Fetyukov scrounged around the mess -hall pleadi ng for food and licking

other men’s leftover; this highlights the struggle for human dignity. The camp while revealing

Shukhov’s inner nobility in the face of degradation, exposed the deterioration of Tsezar’s

humanity, it’s a demonstration of how men can overcome adversity but also of those who

wither and succumb to it.

Furthermore, the social group is represented on the basis of binary oppositions,

contrasting themes, and motifs, this is perfectly exemplified by the relationships between

prison and priso ners: how the guards treat prisoners as vile animals revealing their profound

inhumanity, and the opposite standpoint is the way that the prisoners treat each other, either

with compassion or acting in their own self -interest at the expense of others’ well being .

Another major clash of themes is death vs life – the struggle for survival, the cold is emphasized

throughout the story; it’s a reminder of our human mortality, that all ways would end into the

death, nevertheless for some the struggle is not over, even in the harsh climate of Siberia, they

are not only surviving but living in their most modest way.

In conclusion, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn with his novel, through the representation of

the zeks with the brilliant use of narrative devices and a succinct , journalistically informative

writing style started an intellectual revolution in a country of suppressed speech and oppression

of thoughts, he was the one man who stood up against the tyrannical system exposing it to the

world: “The Soviet Union was dest royed by information – and this wave started from

Solzhenitsyn’s One Day”. Solzhenitsyn succeeded in achieving his purpose and reclaimed

justice for his people; it is now irrefutable that indeed as Dostoevsky once said : “Beauty will

save the world” , as it had many times before .


Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Idiot . Azbuka, 2017.

Solzhenitsyn, Alexandr. “The Nobel Prize in Literature 1970.” Nobelprize.org , The Nobel

Prize, 1970, www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1970/solzhenitsyn/lecture/ .

Haqshenas, Saleh. “Russian Diaspora A Structural Analysis of One Day in the Life of Ivan

Denisovich through Binary Oppositions Application.” Academia.edu – Share Research ,



in_ the_Life_of_Ivan_Denisovich_through_Binary_Oppositions_Application.

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