Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
THE MISSING NUMBER Summary
Ivan and Senka rush to the guardroom and are breathless upon their arrival. The other prisoners are upset with them for they have been waiting in the cold; they issue curses over the delay. As the prisoners stand in line to be checked before departing, Ivan converses with the Captain about astronomy, and his talk reveals his lack of knowledge and his simple faith in God. The two men also talk about the Captainís past. He worked in the British Navy as a Liaison officer on a British cruiser. In honor of his work on the cruiser, the admiral gave the Captain a medal. Instead of bringing him glory, the medal brought him trouble. The Russian authorities judged him to be a traitor for accepting the honor and punished him by sending him to the prison labor camp. Like many of the other prisoners, the Captain has been severely punished when he was innocent.
During the guard check, it is discovered that there is a missing number. A search party is sent out to look for the missing prisoner, who has fallen asleep in the repair shop. The culprit is apprehended and identified as a Moldavian. The prisoners curse him for further delaying them and depriving them of leisure time, and the authorities punish him for his lapse. As the re-counting of prisoners begins, darkness fills the sky, and everyone grows restless.
A large portion of one day in the life of Ivan has passed. By the end of this episode, the sun has set and darkness has descended. Like every other day, this one has been filled with work and misery. Ivan was awakened with the sound of Reveille, failed to get up on time because of his aches and pain, was punished for staying in bed, mopped the guardroom as punishment, ate a meager breakfast, was rejected from the sick list and admission to the infirmary, walked through the miserable cold to the work site, spent the morning covering the windows with felt, and spent the afternoon laying bricks. Even now, with the dayís work finished, he and the other prisoners cannot go back to their barracks because the guards must check and recheck to make certain that all prisoners are present. Ivan dares not complain about anything, including the chill wind and miserable cold, for he knows that he would be punished.
Despite the hardships, Ivan bears his entire ordeal patiently, He even tries to see the positive side of things, thinking that he enjoys being his own boss while he works at the back-breaking job of laying bricks. When he is made to wait for a long time while the guards do their final checks on the prisoners, Ivan passes the time by talking with the Captain about astronomy. During the conversation, he reveals his limited knowledge of God and his simplistic faith. He also believes that a new moon appears every month as the old one is broken up by God into little stars, replacing the ones that have fallen down. Ivanís innocence and ignorance amuse the Captain, who is educated and knowledgeable.
When the Captain converses with Caesar, there is a sharp contrast to the conversation with Ivan. Both Caesar and the Captain are educated, literate, artistic, and like-minded.
Thus they talk of literature and films. They even discuss the artistic merits of Potemkin, the classic film of Einstein.
It is once again clear that Solzhenitsyn prefers Ivan to all the other characters in the book. For the author, the simplistic faith of Ivan is superior to the educated knowledge of the Captain and Caesar or to the blind belief of Alyosha. Solzhenitsyn was always critical of organized religion, particularly that of the Russian Orthodox Church, so Ivanís belief that God is revealed everywhere in nature is refreshing.