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Ivan Denisovich Shukhov
Ivan, a prisoner in a Siberian labor camp, is serving the eighth year of his ten-year sentence. In spite the harshness of his life in the camp, he continues to have a positive attitude. A logical, independent thinker, Ivan is a survivor and does things to make his stay in the camp tolerable. He follows orders and obeys the officials in order to avoid punishment. He also does extra work in order to earn extra rations and an occasional ruble.
Ivan is a good human being. Although he is concerned about his own survival, he is also concerned about the welfare of his fellow prisoners. He always helps Pavlo, the assistant boss, to collect the rations for all of his gang and often manages to get extras for Pavlo to distribute. At the work site, he helps the other prisoners by giving them advice and guidance. When he is assigned to lay bricks with Senka, the deaf prisoner, he patiently makes it known to him what should be done and how they should proceed. He is also patient with Alyosha and does not criticize his religious fervor. Ivan also takes Gopchik, a young Ukrainian prisoner, under his personal care, almost like a surrogate son. He is even willing to help Caesar even though he always treats Ivan in a condescending manner. Because of his kindness to others, Ivan is liked and respected by everyone.
Ivan is not educated like Caesar or the Captain, but he possesses a natural cleverness and instinct for survival, which help him to survive the rigors of the camp. He constantly listens and watches in order to avoid trouble or conflict. When he is in a tight spot, he can think quickly, like the time he hid the metal piece in his mitten and avoided detection by the guard. He knows how to earn extra rations in order to stave off hunger. His basic resourcefulness also helps him to be creative, fashioning a knife and a needle from old pieces of metal; in turn, he uses his tools to make some extra money. Additionally, Ivan is foresighted enough to plan ahead, hiding part of his rations for a time when he is really hungry.
Although he is not a religious man like Alyosha, Ivan does believe in God. He also believes that work is a form of worship. Whenever he is involved in doing a job, he forgets his troubles and physical pains. Although he is genuinely sick when he awakes in the morning, Ivan does not think about how he feels while he is laying bricks. In fact, he is the last one to quit working and takes great pride in his craftsmanship.
In many ways, Ivan is a reflection of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, resembling his creator in his history, his status, his outlook, and his attitude about life. Like Solzhenitsyn, he had worked in the army before being sent to a labor camp. The author spent eight years doing forced labor, and Ivan is in the eighth year of his sentence. Both Ivan and Solzhenitsyn love Russia and its common people, but neither approves of the arbitrary rules laid down by the Soviet regime. Both are also openly critical of Stalin. Even though Ivan and the author believe in God, they reject organized religion, especially the Russian Orthodox Church, because of its corruptness. In truth, Ivan Denisovich is Solzhenitsyn’s spokesman, voicing his beliefs and sharing his experiences.
Largely due to his Christian dogma, Alyosha is a good human being. Friendly and warm to everyone, he tries to help others when he can. He is also a hard worker. Like Ivan, he accepts his position and does not envy others or crave what he cannot have. He also tries to be sensible. Not wanting to incur the wrath of the guards, he quickly puts his Bible away when they are coming; but he never puts his faith away. It is the armor that allows him to survive.