The book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a book with many hidden themes and symbols. This book based on a day in a “Stalinist” labor camp through the eyes of the main character Shukhov. Solzhenitsyn does a great job of showing how brutal these camps were. The way these ideas and visualizations are expressed is what makes this a great book. With Themes and symbols throughout this story, Solzhenitsyn captures the unjust treatment of these captives. Through the daily routines of Shukhov, Solzhenitsyn expresses the struggle for dignity, individuality and meaning that these captives faced.
One of the main points I believe that Solzhenitsyn was trying to display in his book was the battle for human dignity. In this prison they try to strip all self esteem from the inmates. They are treated as if they were animals and most of the inmates after time began to act like inmates. Shukhov was an exception to the rule. He refused to let the labor camp strip him of his self pride and dignity. When most would act like the animals they were treated as, Shukhov would resist and act as a civil human being. A great example of this is when the inmates go eat. “Then Shukhov took his cap off his shaved head however cold it was, he would never eat with it on.” (pg 16) While other inmates rushed to eat there food and threw bones onto the floor, Shukhov remained extremely well mannered in the way he went about eating his meal just as he did before he entered the prison. While others give into the animalistic ways of the prison, Shukhov remains constant and dignified and Solzhenitsyn shows this as a way for Shukhov to segregate himself from the prison.
Another everyday activity that takes place for Shukhov is the placing of his spoon in his boot after each meal he has. To Shukhov, something as simple as his spoon is extremely important. The spoon he keeps in his boot is something that he has that no other inmate has. To Shukhov the spoon represents eccentricity. The spoon is something that is unique to Shukhov and in a way it represents him. A spoon is a tool used to nourish oneself and to Shukhov, taking care of himself physically and spiritually is important to him. A simple spoon is one extremely important part of Shukhov’s wellbeing in the concentration camp.
One of the biggest symbols in the book was bread. Bread was nourishing to the inmates physically throughout the entire story. Bread was what they wanted and what they needed to be happy. At the end of the story bread was what brought not only physical peace to Shukhov by curving his hunger but it also brought spiritual peace to him when he gave the little bread he had to Alyoshka. After giving his bread away Shukhov became peaceful with his surroundings. “Shukhov went to sleep and was happy. He’d had a lot of luck today.” Shukhov finally understood what Alyoshka meant when he referred to the Lord’s Prayer and his suggestion to “daily bread.” Shukhov spiritually received his daily bread for the first time and found peace with himself.
Solzhenitsyn main intent in describing the daily life of this specific inmate was to uncover the themes and symbols that the inmates used to get by in everyday life. Without things like Shukhov’s spoon or “daily bread” many of these prisoners would not have been able to survive.