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One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1429 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a gripping, insightful description of a reality that may now seem inconceivable to us, so distant from our perception of human rights and individual freedom. It reveals the awful labor and concentration camps that emerged in Europe throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The novel displays a disgraceful period in Russian history and a psychological examination of the vital survival methods in such circumstances. The novel consists of a single day in January 1951 through the eyes of the protagonist, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, who is in the eighth year of a total of ten-year sentence. The Russian culture raises the novel through the creation of a very insipid setting on which Ivan Denisovich’s daily routine is realistically outlined. In this essay I will be explaining how the novel serves as a means to comprehend the Russian culture it was built upon.

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The characters, themes, and plot are all linked with the Russian cultural background. The central theme is the oppression the characters are confronted with on a daily basis. Consequently, the plot also incorporates oppression such as ill treatment from the superior. The tempo of the plot is monotonous and the Russian culture sets a raw and cold tone. The camp and dreadful labor hours imposed by the soviet government slows down the characters time, causing the plot, which is exclusively Ivan’s style and routine, to be tedious. The prison camps integrate traits of Russian sternness, controlling military workforce, poor facilities, and deprived living conditions all of which harm Ivan. The Soviet wardens abuse the prisoners for their own advantage and their power-driven ego. Ivan’s controlling surroundings both harm and agonize him as an individual.

Principal examples of cultural influences are the mindsets of the protagonist. Culture has an impact on the relatively enervated behavior of the protagonist by establishing boundaries that cripple their inner desires. Ivan’s conduct during his sentence in the Siberian work camp reveals the culture from which he was raised. He is modest, cooperative, eager and skillful at all times. He is not violent or dishonest towards others, rather he recognizes his fate hoping to be liberated, surviving day by day. The Russian culture at the time, a state in which the masses were controlled and where life felt repetitive, shapes the foundation of Ivan’s way of being. The culture has a great impact on the conduct of the protagonist, causing him to fall in line and obey to the oppressor’s requests. 

Russian culture in that era was awfully harsh and it was concerned with restraining and controlling its nation. A quote expressing the essence of a strong mentality to get through the day; “The ones that don’t make it are those who lick other men’s leftovers, those who count on the doctors to pull them through, and those who squeal on their buddies.” [2] An illustration of the harsh conditions the prisoners had to endure is when they were ordered to construct a power station, although it was exceptionally cold and the mortar used for bricklaying would freeze if not applied rapidly. Regulations stated that the men would only be excused if the temperature dropped below -41°C. The suffering faced by the zeks were things such as the severity of the weather, their inadequate clothing and their food which consisted of black bread, porridge and water-based cabbage soup. They were also persecuted by the guards, who are fixated on enforcing insignificant regulations. However, Solzhenitsyn reminds us that the guards attitude stems primarily from their own bitterness at the firm conditions and at the callous discipline imposed upon them. If any of the prisoners succeeded in escaping, the guards accountable would be enforced to take their places in the camp. 

The novel is a literary work in which food in association with culture is a major part of the setting. Observation of a culture’s behavior towards food and during mealtimes supplies significant insight into the cultures nature. Eating is a fairly animalistic part of humanity as well as the center for social gathering. Due to its scarcity, food is the utmost motivator for the prisoners. A quote illustrating the importance of food to the prisoners; “Apart from sleep, the only time a prisoner lives for himself is ten minutes in the morning at breakfast, five minutes over dinner, and five at supper.” [3]   In prison life there is vast evidence of social influence and customs on the manner the prisoners dine. Social influence can be identified in the manner in which higher-ranking and harder-working prisoners obtain more food. The quantity of food consumed is a good indicator of class within the prisoners. Those of higher status obtain portions with more calories, while the majority gets soup consisting mostly of water. A representation of social customs is when the protagonist is unable to eat with his hat still on. Although he is uncomfortably cold without it on, his Russian upbringing stops him from covering his head while eating. Another example is when the old veteran takes a portion of cloth and uses it as a place-mat while he eats his meals. Their habits were made before they became prisoners, when they still lived in their Soviet state of origin.

The novel is to some extent, Solzhenitsyn relating to his own experiences when as a captain in the Soviet army, he was arrested in 1945 for making offensive remarks about Stalin and spent the next eight years in different camps. The closing time of his captivity took place in a camp for political prisoners in Kazakhstan, which is generally considered to be the setting for the novel. It was one of the first novels of the post-Stalin age to express to an international distribution the knowledge of political imprisonment and oppression under the régime. Solzhenitsyn never criticizes the Communist system in the novel; if he would have done so, the novel would have certainly been banned. He purely offers a description of what life was like in the camps, but in the long run his prose was to prove as harmful to the system as any intensification of political expression. After reading, one is left in no doubt with the horror of the life in Siberia’s camps, and also with the author’s personal judgment of the condition of the land of his birth during that period. It lets you partake in the struggle of men to survive the awful rigors of nature and the cruelty of the system that describes their conditions of life.

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Classic Russian literature incorporates certain essential characteristics of the soviet culture. During a period when the Soviet Union was under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, it was intricate to write novels that expressed the social climate. The cultural climate in the Soviet Union at this time was rough; conveying your opinion was often not only tricky, but risky. Forced labor camps came about and innocent citizens were put in jail for political and social crimes that they usually did not commit. Another regular characteristic of classic Russian literature was that authors tended to make the reader experience as if they were within the thoughts of the protagonist. Although the novel is written in third person, the readers feels as if they are seeing and experiencing the protagonists day through his eyes.

In conclusion, our cultural environment influences both our personality and our development as a human being. The novel shows us that even in our most desperate moments, when our environment forces us to strip away our identity and individuality, our social customs and cultural influences still take place. An individual who is brought up in a culture with customs that would be considered extreme by others will have unlike values from a society who was never exposed to such things. In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, their social customs is what allows them to keep stable and sane as an individual in such harsh circumstances influenced by the Russian culture. The novel presents a horrible yet significant period in Russian history where cultural influence plays a significant role in which the characters utilize day by day.


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