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MonkeyNotes-One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich
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LETTERS Summary

In the special camp, the prisoners are allowed to write only two letters home each year, another indication of the harshness of the officials. When Ivan was at Ust-Izma, he could write one letter every month; however, he had never felt the need to write more than a letter every six months, for he had nothing to write about. He did not want to bore his wife with the details of camp life.

It has been ten years since Ivan was forced from his home and his wife. In the interim, he has received many letters from home. Because of his wife’s correspondence with him, Ivan knows that his village has undergone significant transformation. The system of the “Kulak,” the socialist farm, has lost its importance. Most of the men are seeking their livelihoods in other endeavors than farming, especially in manufacturing. As a result, only the women and old men are left to work on the farms. Also the traditional crafts of the village, like pot making, basketry, and carpentry, have almost vanished. The craftsmen are now painting cheap carpets, an occupation in which they can make more money. Ivan’s wife urges him, in one of her letters, to become a carpet painter upon his return. When Ivan responds that he cannot paint carpets since he has no hand for drawing, his wife writes back that no skill is needed, for the carpets are painted with stencils. The thought of painting carpets for a living, instead of doing carpentry, is very unappealing to Ivan, but he resigns himself to such a prospect. He knows that it will be difficult to get any kind of work after being a political prisoner and losing his civil rights.


Notes

This section of the novel is the only one that depicts the Soviet society of the time and the life of the people living in it. As industry develops in the Soviet Union, it causes many changes, especially in the small villages like the one in which Ivan lived. The young men, who are no longer willing to work on the socialist farms, leave the villages to find jobs in manufacturing. Also the traditional crafts people are giving up carpentry, basketry, and pottery making in favor of easier and more lucrative jobs, like stenciling carpets. Radios are found in almost every home, affording the people knowledge of the world outside their village.

Ivan learns about these changes from the letters that he receives from his wife, and his reactions to the changes reflect the attitude of Solzhenitsyn himself. Ivan resents the youth for deserting the village farms for life in the towns and cities. He also feels bad about the dwindling importance of traditional arts and crafts and resents that his fellow craftsmen now prefer commercial endeavors that pay more money. However, being a practical man, he realizes that he may have to paint carpets himself, for he will have difficulty finding work after being a political prisoner.

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