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Protagonist - Ivan Denisovich Shukhov is the protagonist of the novel. A prisoner at a Siberian Labor Camp, he uses his determination, resourcefulness, and positive attitude to survive the rigors of his camp life. Although he has served eight years of his ten-year sentence, he does not believe that he will truly be allowed to return to his wife and children in another two years.
Antagonist - The rigor of everyday existence in the Siberian Labor Camp is Ivanís antagonist. To reveal the kinds of things Ivan must regularly endure, Solzhenitsyn follows him through one day of his life. During the twenty-four hour period, Ivanís life is continually threatened. Early in the morning, the Thin Tartar picks on him for waking up late and threatens to seriously punish him. When he goes to the infirmary because he is suffering from aches and pains, he cannot be admitted, for the quota of two prisoners has already been met. Even though he works long, hard hours in the freezing cold, Ivan is given a meager amount of food and must work extra jobs to receive extra rations. He must constantly endure the criticism, threats, and mistreatment of the officials. He must also stand up for himself against the other prisoners if he is to survive.
Climax - After working hard at the power plant in the freezing cold and reaching the guardroom late, Ivan faces a true crisis when he remembers he has hidden a piece of metal in his coat. If the guards discover the metal, he is sure to be sent to solitary confinement. Ivan is so concerned about being discovered that he prays to God for help. Fortunately, the Chief Warden calls the search to a close, just as the old guard is about to search Ivanís mitten, where the metal is hidden. Always appreciative, Ivan is particularly thankful for this stroke of good luck, for he knows that solitary confinement usually means certain death.