Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Social Context

Social Context-

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote “One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich” to portray the cruelty of the soviet regime, and the degradation of the Gulag camps. This is represented by the mass number of arrests that were made during Stalin’s era, and how easily someone could be sentenced to the Gulag camps. Also the Gulag camp that is clearly described in One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich show the cruelty of the Soviet regime as the labor was grueling and made harder by the extreme climates. The prisoners “zeks” succumbed to such degradation as they were limited to so much, food, clothes and freedom.
Solzhenitsyn demonstrates the corrupted state of the Soviet government at this time through describing one day in the Gulag camps. It was especially descriptive and personal as Solzhenitsyn served in a Gulag camp for 8 years for writing a joke about Joseph Stalin. He had to write the novel, One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich in secrecy as it was during the time of the cold war and when his novel was published the soviet rulers felt threatened, thus banned all works of Solzhenitsyn until the Gorbachev era.
The novel demonstrated the exposed truth of the Soviet regime. Solzhenitsyn wanted to demonstrate that the Soviet Regime was directly responsible for the Gulag camps. This is shown in the novel by the extreme conditions that the prisoners had to endure to carry out the labor that was assigned to them. Because the labor that the prisoners of the Gulag camps had to do, significantly aided the countries economy, as the Gulag labor was used for most of the countries lumbering and for the mining of coal, gold and copper. Stalin was dependant on the labor camps that’s why the influx of new prisoners was so high, as Stalin was continually increasing the number of projects for the camps.

The title: One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich
By using the name Ivan which is a very common name in Russia demonstrates how the typical person could be sentenced to the Gulag. Also by writing the novel on a single day helps to enhance the idea that time in the Gulag camp always felt so extended, especially when the prisoners in the camp never knew when they would actually be released. Also in the title the protagonist is referred as Ivan Denisovich, however throughout the novel, he is recognized as Shukhov. Solzhenitsyn most likely does this to show how once people were in the camps, they could become a different person. Their true identities were lost because the camp forced them to become a completely changed person to be able to survive in the Gulag. Also, it could be that the Soviets wanted to diminish each identity as a human but modify them as a pure laborer. This is evident through the names which the foremen calls the prisoners which are replaced with codes and numbers, for example Shcha-854 for Shukhov.

Solzhenitsyn writing this novel during the Stalin era is represented in “One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich” through Koyla writing poetry in the Gulag camp. Creative expression of thought was almost impossible in both the book and in Solzhenitsyn’s life. Any criticism or threat towards the Soviet regime would mean a sentence to a Gulag camp. Therefore, the representation of Kolya hints a subliminal message that secure censorship of writings and the restriction of the freedom of speech caused suffering and misery to many writers.

Solzhenitsyn illustrates many ways in which the prisoners of the camp maintain their sanity and also preserve their self-dignity. For example, many prisoners like Shukhov and Kuzyomin do not lick their bowls, as they do not want to succumb to the degradation that the Gulag camp compels them to. However, Solzhenitsyn symbolizes the loss of dignity through the character Fetyukov. He is seen as a low life, as his desperation leads him to beg for food and tobacco. Another important aspect that Solzhenitsyn tried to include in his book was never ending uncertainty of whether they would get enough food, whether they would be punished, whether they would be sent to the hole, whether a parcel would come for them and most of all when they would get out of the Gulag. Their food depended on if your group whole group met the quota, and punishment could be given from such acts as licking the bowl of soup, talking back to the guards or not lining up in the columns correctly. The worst punishment though was being sentenced to the hole. Solzhenitsyn describes how 10 days would mean tuberculosis and 15 days would mean death, with this vivid statement in the book readers can gain a sense of knowledge of the harsh conditions of the camp. Also the important message that Solzhenitsyn portrays in the end of the book is to show what a good day means to a prisoner in the Gulag camp. It was a good day to Solzhenitsyn because he got extra rations and he wasn't sent to the hole. And it demonstrates how different we would view a good day to how the prisoners would view it. This emphasizes the conditions that the prisoners lived, and the message that the author wanted to give: that you can make the best from what you have.

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