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“It lay in open country covered with snowdrifts, and before anything else could be done and there they would have to dig holes and put up posts and attach barbed wire to them. Wire themselves in, so that they wouldn’t run away. Only then would they start building. There wouldn’t be a warm corner for a whole month. Not even a doghouse. And fires were out of the question. There was nothing to build them with.” (Solzhenitsyn 5)
The winter setting furthers the idea of how strident the camp. The omnipresent cold and snow makes the camp world feel endless. To add to this feeling of the continuous, there is only a barbed wire fence and the rest barren, where there was no comfort from structures or sustainability. The empty landscape shows as to how the character feels, abandoned in a pointless prison. This makes Shukhov feel as if he is eternally bound to the desolate camp.
“Buinovsky, who kept stealing glances at him, finally barked: “Hey you, what do you think you’re doing? Picking up all kinds of diseases? You’ll get a syphilitic lip that way. Stop it.” The captain was used to giving orders. He spoke to everyone as if in command. But Fetiukov didn’t give a damn for him– the captain got no parcels either. And with a malicious grin on his drooling lips he replied: “You wait, captain. When you’ve been in for eight years you’ll be picking them up yourself. We’ve seen bigger men than you in the camp..” Fetiukov was judging by his own standards. Perhaps the captain would stand up to camp life.” (Solzhenitsyn 41)
Captain Buynovsky continues with his past attitude as a naval captain, instead of his reality as a zek. Through indirect characterization, with the shouting of orders, we learn the captains attitude towards the camp. The character struggles to understand his position in the camp, instructing others instead of quietly doing his own work. He marches around shouting instructions and insulting his peers. He has not figured out that the camp is directed of a separate set of rules and attitude of which he must adapt.
“Shukhov rather enjoyed having everybody poke a finger at him as if to say: Look at him, his term’s nearly up. But he had his doubts about it. Those zeks who finished their time during the war had all been “retained pending special instructions” and had been released only in ‘46. Even those serving three- year sentences were kept for another five. The law can be stood on its head. When your ten years are up they can say, ‘Here’s another ten for you’” (Solzhenitsyn 54).
One of the major external conflicts in the book is the prison sentences, which are fabricated by the government. These falsified sentences were put in place by the Soviet government to keep prisoners hopeful and working hard. Instead of having a set day for release, they would wait much longer than presumed. The author included this to exemplify the unjust system of the Soviets. This reveals the manipulative ways of the Soviets, twisting the law to their will.
“He drew his right knee up to his stomach, pulled his spoon (“Ustlzhma, 1944”) from under his boot top, removed his hat, put it in his left armpit, and ran his spoon under the edge of the kasha. This is a moment that demands complete concentration, as you remove some of the scanty kasha from the bottom of the bowl, put it carefully into your mouth, and swirl it around there with your tongue.” (Solzhenitsyn 63)
One of the major themes of this book is oppression of identity, which can be exemplified in this quote. The Russian gulags strip the prisoners of their identity, and replace them with numbers. There is no variation with outfit choices, stripping them partially of their personality. With the loss of identity, it makes it harder to survive with their living conditions. With their identity they can maintain hope and strive through the horrors of camp; without it, they are lost.
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