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MonkeyNotes-One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich
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PLOT (Synopsis)

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich starts with the sounding of reveille at the Siberian prison labor camp. Ivan hears the sound but does not get up, for he feels sick and full of aches. He closes his eyes to snatch a few more minutes of rest, but a cruel guard, known as Thin Tartar, pulls him out of bed and threatens to lock him away in solitary confinement. Ivanís punishment, however, turns out to be mopping the floor in the guardroom. Thankful for being spared from confinement in a prison cell, Ivan finishes the task rapidly and rushes off to the mess hall to have his breakfast. He tries to relish every mouthful of the gruel even though it is cold and watery.

After breakfast, Ivan goes to the infirmary, hoping to be admitted for a few days of rest and recuperation. Inside the infirmary, he is suddenly conscious of his shabby appearance, which is in stark contrast to the bright and clean infirmary. A young medic, who is really a student of literature, takes his temperature, which is only slightly elevated. The medic also tells Ivan that he cannot be admitted, for the quota of two prisoners a day has already been met, even though it is still early morning. Although Ivan is disappointed that he will not be able to get some rest, he cheers himself by thinking that the senior doctor in the infirmary would probably make him work even though he is sick.

Ivan returns to the barracks, for it is still not time to leave for the work site. When he enters, Pavlo, the assistant boss, is surprised to see him, but willingly hands over Ivanís bread ration for the day. The careful Ivan divides the loaf in half. He tucks one part of it into his jacket to eat at the work site; he hides the other half inside his mattress so it can be eaten later. Ivan then goes out in the freezing cold for roll call. Before departing for the power plant, where Ivanís gang has been assigned to work, the guards search each prisoner to make certain that they are not wearing extra clothing or carrying prohibited items. One of the fairly new prisoners is wearing an extra jersey under his uniform; when the guards discover it, the prisoner, Captain Buynovsky, is sentenced to ten days of solitary confinement.


Before the prisoners leave for the power plant, Tyurin, the boss of Ivanís gang, assigns each prisoner his task for the day. In the morning, Ivan and Kilgas are to cover the windows to help keep out the cold. In the afternoon, they are to lay bricks on the second level. Kilgas has stolen and hidden some roofing felt, which can be used on the windows, so the morning work goes well. The boss is so pleased with the work of Ivan and Kilgas that he asks them to repair a stove and a mixer, which they eagerly do. Extra work usually means extra rations to stave off the hunger.

During the noontime break, Ivan accompanies Pavlo to the mess hall, where he gets a bowl of mush for each member of his gang. He also manages to get two extra bowls, which he gives to Pavlo for distribution. Ivan is delighted to be rewarded with one of the extra bowls. The other bowl is given to Captain Buynovsky, who will need extra nourishment to endure his days in solitary confinement. Pavloís second portion is given to Caesar, who regularly bribes the officials.

When Ivan is returning to work after lunch, he notices a piece of metal on the ground. He thinks he may be able to fashion it into a knife or other useful tool; therefore, he picks up the metal and hides it in his coat. Feeling content about his good fortune, he hears more good news. Tyurin has been able to get his gang extra rations for the next five days for the work they are doing at the power plant. Before ordering the prisoners back to work, Tyurin talks about his past. He explains how he was dishonorably dismissed from the Red Army because his father was a kulak, a member of the landed middle class that was disliked by the Soviet Regime. He was then later arrested and sent to a work camp.

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