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

The whistle on the steam engine goes off signaling a break for the noontime meal. Since Ivan and his fellow prisoners are delayed, they are concerned that they may have to wait in a long queue in the mess hall. Pavlo and Ivan lead the way. Although the hall is filled, Ivan pushes his way through the crowd and presents his bowl to the cook. He then collects twenty-three bowls of mush for the other members of his gang and puts them on a table. In the process, he manages to get two extra bowls of mush, neither of which he intends to take for himself. The servings are very small, for only two pounds of oats are allowed for each gang, and the kitchen staff always takes some of the portion for themselves.

Seating himself at the table, Ivan gives the two extra portions he has “stolen” to Pavlo for distribution. He then drinks his own bowl of mush and accepts another offered by Pavlo. Pavlo then tells Ivan to give one of the extra portions to Captain Buynovsky, who must soon try to survive ten days of solitary confinement. Ivan then takes the other extra bowl to Caesar, as instructed by Pavlo. Although Caesar is deep in conversation and does not notice the extra mush, Ivan’s code of honor will not allow him to take the extra mush for himself.


Notes

In this episode, Solzhenitsyn shows how the prisoners watch out for their fellow prisoners. When noontime is signaled, Ivan and Pavlo rush to the mess hall ahead of the others in order to get a bowl of mush for everyone in their gang. In addition, Ivan manages to gain two extra bowls of mush, which he hands over to the assistant boss for distribution. Pavlo gives Ivan one of the bowls because he has earned it. Showing a touch of uncharacteristic kindness, Pavlo tells Ivan to give the second bowl to Buynovsky, who will need the extra nourishment during his solitary confinement. Pavlo shares his own second portion with Caesar, because of bribes he has received from him.

Even in the mess hall, the system of prison hierarchy is maintained. Tyurin, the boss, and Pavlo, his assistant, are in control of the food and decide who gets extra rations. They also get double rations for themselves because of their position. Tyurin, however, does not eat with the gang, judging it to be beneath him. The cook also holds a position of importance, for he can give a prisoner large or small servings as he sees fit.

Ivan’s code of honor is again developed in this section. Although he is the one responsible for getting the two extra portions of food, he does not keep one for himself; instead, he immediately turns over both the extra rations to Pavlo for distribution. Because of his honesty, Pavlo rewards him with one of the portions. Ivan also has the opportunity to take Caesar’s extra portion of mush. Once again, he does not even consider stealing from a fellow prisoner; he would never stoop that low.

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