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Ivan decides that he will go to the infirmary after he has had his breakfast. When he reaches the mess hall, the tables are filled with prisoners, who are eating their morning rations of gruel and fish bones. In their hunger, they gobble their food, often spilling portions of it on the table. Ivan notices a new, young prisoner, who says a blessing and crosses himself before eating. He thinks about the fact that most Russians have lost their religion because of the Soviet regime.
Ivan pushes his way through the crowded mess hall and finds Fetyukov, who has been guarding Ivanís breakfast. It is clear that Fetyukov is disappointed to see Ivan, for he thought he might be able to eat double rations for breakfast. After Ivan sits down, he begins to slowly eat his gruel, relishing each mouthful even though it is cold. He then chews the meat off the fish bones, even eating the eyes. Leaving the mess hall, Ivan heads for the infirmary.
More is revealed about Ivan in this section. He is a very determined man. Although he felt better as he mopped the floor, he has made up his mind to go to the infirmary. As soon as he is through eating his breakfast, he heads in that direction. Ivan is also capable of looking after himself. Even though he is normally a kind, gentle man, he can be aggressive. He quickly finished his job of mopping the wardroom floor in order to arrive at the mess hall before breakfast is over. Always hungry, he does not want to miss out on the morning ration. Once inside the crowded hall, he pushes his way through the other prisoners in order to find Fetyukov, who has promised to guard Ivanís breakfast for him.
Ivan, who has been a prisoner for eight years, has learned the laws of survival. He eats every morsel of his breakfast, for he knows that the tasteless food must be consumed in order to preserve his life. Unlike most of the other prisoners, who no longer care about manners, Ivan still upholds certain principles. He leaves the fish bones on the table after eating them, rather than throwing them on the ground like the others. He also remembers to remove his cap before eating.
Ivan again shows that he is sensitive to those around him. He notices the young prisoner who says a blessing and crosses himself. In addition, he notices that Fetyukov is not happy about having to turn over Ivanís rations to him. He realizes that Fetyukov is weak and expects to receive benefits even though he shirks his share of the work. Ivan considers himself to be better than Fetyukov, but he looks up to Tyurin, Pavlo, and Caesar, whom he judges to be dignified and self-assured. Although the prisoners all look the same, with ďthe same black overcoats and numbers . . . underneath they were all different.Ē
This section again reinforces the misery of the prisoners, who are normally identified only by a number. It is quite obvious that they are all underfed, almost starving. They are also starving for meaning. The rigid Soviet laws have tried to suppress religion and relationships. Alyosha, the devout Baptist prisoner, hides his Bible, for he fears being caught with it and punished. It is only the new, young prisoner who still dares to say a blessing before eating.