Our interactive orals on One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich showed the enormous amount of research and discussion that bought into focus, and highlighted the style that Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in; the skaz which is a variation on traditional forms of Russian narrative. We discussed how the reader is not only, given an insight into the perspective of Ivan Denisovich, a fellow inmate, but also into the setting, cultural and social issues and the hierarchical structure in prison. From not fully understanding the importance of the impact of the cultural and contextual considerations in the novel, the discussions helped me understand Denisovichs perspective a lot better.
Through the interactive orals, I learned that under Stalins reign, the Soviet Gulag system was quite eminent in Russia. Solzhenitsyns personal turmoil in the Gulag system inspired him to write this novel and express his strong emotions on the Gulag system and the distribution of power and authority through the character of Denisovich. We also discussed how Stalins regime in Russia evoked among the Russian civilians who were detained and thrown into the Gulag system without a proper reason as well as the abuse that was inflicted on them. We also discussed how power and authority was used to get the Zeks (prisoners) to do what the higher authorities wanted, a form of corruption which is prevalent in most organizations today.
I understood that the Soviet camp is a mini representation of how the Soviet Union worked under Stalins regime. Even though the role of power and authority was eminent among the camp inmates with the prisoners being on the bottom, The Soviet stands as the ultimate power and authority over everyone; the prisoners as well as the officials in the camp and the civilians in the Soviet as well. Before the discussion, I couldnt make this connection. The discussion helped me establish the connections to deepen my understanding of the novel and the impact of society, as well as the economic, social, cultural and political context in the novel.
The Role of Power and Authority in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the author of 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich', has brought about the theme of authority and power on several levels in the book. The power and authority existing among the camp inhabitants is a hierarchical power structure. This essay seeks to look into the role of power and authority in the book.
Power and authority as a way of life. From the security, to the squad leaders a sense of sternness from their presence is felt. "In camp the squad leader is everything: a good one will give you a second life; a bad one will put you in your coffin." (p. 20). Their lives as prisoners were determined by the whims of the authority figures and the authorities. The authorities had different reactions and thus a wise inmate knew which authorities or guards to avoid and how they could get away with some things. Power and authority as a way of instilling fear. This is evident in Lieutenant Volkvoi, who is the chief security of the labor camp. He is a dictator and is the most feared leader of the guards and the prisoners. "There was truth in that. Better to growl and submit. If you were stubborn they broke you." (p. 22). Prisoners and the guards had named him a wolf due to his actions. He always carried a whip around which he used while he sneaked up on a detainee. He is the epitome of a ruthless authority figure, who evoked fear among the prisoners. In addition, the Tartar too instilled fear among the prisoners in that when Shukhov decided to report sick, at that very moment his blanket and jacket were imperiously jerked off. The moment they heard that peculiar chocking voice of his, everyone who wasnt up yet in the whole dimly lit barracks, where two hundred men slept in bug ridden bunks, stirred to life and started dressing in a hurry. (p.7)
Power and authority for personal gains. Buinovsky, who is a former naval captain, still acts as an authority figure despite having retired and even rebukes Fetiukov for taking peoples cigarettes. Despite uncouth leadership exhibited by the camp authorities, Tiurin who is the squad leader of the 104 portrays a difference in his leadership. He commands the obedience and loyalty of his members due to his effective leadership styles and his know-how experience. Tiurin brings out the role of authority as that which gives direction and guidance to the team members.
Power and authority as a means of survival. Those people were sure to get through the camp alright only, they were saving their own skin at the expense of other peoples blood. (p.6) .Some prisoners were given powers to go to their fellow prisoners and the camp authorities. "Here, men, we live by the law of the taiga. But even here people manage to live. 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" (p. 6). Der, who is a prisoner and a chief building foreman, exhibits his authority at the expense of his fellow prisoners. For instance, he confronted Turin concerning the stolen prefabs. However, after getting threats from the 104 members he backs down.
Power and authority as a tool of manipulation. The Soviet authorities were authorized to come up with an official story, which in most cases was overlooked. Power, in this case, is used for manipulation. Captain Buinovsky is branded a spy and was even imprisoned for obtaining a gift from the British admiral. Moldavian, who was found sleeping in the shop, was retained in the guardhouse by the authorities. The reason for his retention was that he tried to escape. The reason for his retention was that he tried to escape. On no account were prisoners to walk about the camp on their own. Whenever possible, a squad had to go intact. (p.51). Solzhenitsyn uses this symbol to show Soviet oppression and how absurd methods to achieve power and control. Unrealistic orders such as this one are an attempt to strip civilians under the Soviet rule.
Oppression through power and authority. The servants, like the prisoners were always against the authorities, as the higher authorities made their lives miserable. "How can you expect a man who's warm to understand a man who's cold? The cold stung. A murky fog wrapped itself around Shukhov and made him cough painfully. The temperature out there was -17; Shukov's temperature was 99. (p. 13). The prisoners dont have a say in any matter. For instance, Ivan Denisovich finds out that they are required to work on Sunday, which should be a resting day. However, they have to abide by the oppression. Tsezar is not trusted very much by his fellows especially by Ivan Denisovich since they feel he would spy them to the authorities.
The power and authority was for selfish interests. Top officials such as guards, wardens and commandants are above the prisoners. "But since their day a new decree has been passed, and now the sun stands highest at one." Who passed that decree?" "Soviet power stated on (p. 27) clearly shows the control that the Soviet government had over the civilians. The captain took off with the handbarrow, but Shukhov wasn't going to argue anyway even though the sun wouldnt obey their decrees. This gives the Soviet Union the authority to decide what happens in the camp and conditions that should prevail in the camp. Shukhov knew how to manage anything. Work was like a stick. It had two ends. When you worked for the knowing you gave them quality; when you worked for a fool you simply gave him eyewash. Otherwise, everybody would have croaked long ago. They all knew that. (p. 12). The simile work was like a stick was used by the author to enunciate that work can have two sides which can be done in two different ways.
Unjust treatment among prisoners. Though the camps were designed to punish political prisoners and those that oppose Soviets Government, the power turned the officials to individuals who punished the prisoners unjustly. At that very moment the hand of authority whipped his jerkin and his blanket away. [...] Looking up at him, his head level with the upper bunk, was the lean figure of the Tartar illustrated on (p. 25). For instance, Gopchik, who supplied milk to freedom fighters hiding in woods, is jailed, Shukhov was wrongly accused of being a spy and Tyurin is punished by the officials for having a rich peasant father. Stalin used his authority to create social stratification by trying to eliminate the wealthy. The camp officials, who oppressed the prisoners, were also oppressed by the power of the Soviet state. This makes the guards, wardens, and commandants to unleash their anger at oppression to the prisoners. It is, therefore, evident that power and authority have the power to make officials oppressive.
Power and authority make the camp officials to come up with rules and regulations that are not for the prisoners. Furthermore, the rules put in place made the prisoners turn against each other in their quest to fulfill their basic needs. "You should rejoice that you're in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul" illustrated on (p. 61). It is ironical that the camp which was set to make law breakers good citizens of the Soviet are governed by rules that promote the exact opposite. Power and authority are therefore capable of making those who possess it leave a comfortable and frustrate those being governed.
In conclusion, it is evident that Solzhenitsyn has extensively brought up the theme of power and authority through various characters. Power and authority has been portrayed in a contrasting manner as to not only, lead to giving guidance as shown through the leadership of Tiurin but also to dictate as evidenced in the character trait of Lieutenant Volkvoi.
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Solzhenitsyn, Alexander I, and H T. Willetts. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1991. Print.
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