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Ivan Denisovich Shukhov is a prisoner ("zek") in the Soviet Gulag system, imprisoned on charges being a spy after being captured by the Germans and escaping, and sentenced to 10 years. At the time of the story, during winter, sometime during The Korean War, Shukhov is serving out his sentence in a special camp in Siberia. His number is Щ-854[1] and he is part of squad 104. This book details one day in his life, as he struggles to live through another day.

This book, written in 1962 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and based on his own experiences in the camps, was the first widely distributed account of Stalinist repression and helped raise awareness globally of the conditions in the system.

You can read it in its entirety here.

Tropes used in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich include:
  • Asshole Victim: Those who squeal on their fellow zeks.
  • Bad Boss: Discussed by Shukhov when reflecting on the work gang leaders, noting that since the entire gang requires the leader to be competent enough to get his men favorable rations and work orders, one who can't is this by default.
  • Beige Prose: Shukhov's narration tends towards clipped, simple sentences, regardless of his condition or the world around him--makes sense, given that he's apparently from a collective farm and a conscript, with no immediately evident higher education. (It also makes sense in a meta way, since Solzhenitsyn absolutely HATED the sort of educated loyalist political prisoner who would get uppity about his conditions and make speeches to that effect [while saying everybody else was guilty].)
  • Butt Monkey / The Scrappy (to his fellow inmates): the scavenger Fetyukov.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: You're doing your job wrong if you aren't one of these, as Shukov notes concerning the guards and overseers.
    • Some zeks who find themselves positions of power can invert this trope by using it for the benefit of their fellow zeks, like Tsezar, who works in the overseer's office and apparently helps cook the books to keep his work gang from being given the worst assignments.
  • Corrupt Church: Shukov is rather scornful of religion due to experience with this trope.
  • Deus Ex Machina: Shukhov is just barely saved from getting sent to the hole during an inspection thanks to one of these.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's one day in the life of the zek Shukov, nothing more, nothing less.
  • A Father to His Men: Tyurin.
  • Guile Hero: Shukhov. In fact, if you want to survive in the Gulag, this is practically a survival prerequisite.
    • Gopchick is remarked upon as this trope in training.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: Shukhov. Given the justifications for doing mean the difference between literally starving or doing pretty well for a prisoner in a Soviet gulag, it's portrayed as a good thing by Shukov's POV, though only if one is stealing from the guards or anyone who isn't a prisoner.
  • Like a Son to Me: Gopchik is this to Shukhov.
  • Handicapped Badass: Senka. Being deaf in one ear didn't make him any less able to kick some ass, which Der nearly finds out first hand.
  • Institutional Apparel: "They weigh nothing, the numbers ..."
    • The lack of visible prisoner numbers or the lack of prominence they have on the prisoners is considered especially notable in-universe. The mess manager has a very tiny number on his non-prisoner resembling outfit as a means to humor Lieutenant Volkovoy, but otherwise is regarded with utter contempt by the zeks, since he gets very special treatment despite being a prisoner himself.
  • Jerkass: Practically everyone in the story, Shukhov included, is one to some extent, but the plot avoids Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy because the actual villains are these minus any redeeming traits or sympathetic reasons. One can even make a case Alyosha is one, given his lack of sympathy for Shukhov's contempt of religion, which is born of utterly understandable motives.
    • Jerkass Has a Point: Fetuykov is an asshole, but he makes a perfectly valid point to Bunoksky (who chews him out for fishing tobacco out of spittoons) that zeks have to do some incredibly sad and disgusting things in the name of survival.
  • Kangaroo Court: Many people got imprisoned because the Soviet legal system is this Up to Eleven.
  • MacGyvering: Shukhov has a side business as a self-taught tailor and metal-smith, and since zeks aren't supposed to have tools like knives, he's had to make his own with unorthodox materials and hide them in improvised hiding places. It's also noted that this particular trope can allow a zek to do quite well for themselves since they have the means to do favors for more well off zeks.
    • And even what zeks ARE allowed to have reeked of this trope, as they have to make do with ropes instead of leather belts, and their shoes run the list of actual leather shoes to those made out of old tires.
  • Magikarp Power: Shukhov notes Gopchik is young but is learning how to survive very quickly, and lampshades this trope when musing about well off he will be.
  • The Captain: Bunovsky still acts like one, even though he's still a prisoner.
  • The Messiah: Alyosha is a pretty clear Homage to Dostoevsky's Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov.
  • The Quisling: Der, The Limper, the unnamed cooks who are in tight with the guards. This does not apply to all the prisoners, however, just the ones who use their positions for the explicit purpose of screwing over their fellow zeks for their own gain.
  • The Pollyana: Kildigs, who is always upbeat and cheerful despite being a prisoner.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Some of the guards aren't regarded as really nasty or corrupt, like the Tartar, they are just doing their jobs, and while their jobs encourage them to be assholes, the ones who don't take that excuse and run with it and merely exercise the bare minimum of authority are considered this by the zeks.
  • True Art: Tzesar and another inmate discuss this in regards to Sergei Eisenstein. Shukov doesn't care.
  • Vendor Trash: Subverted. Shukhov takes a broken piece of a saw blade, despite it's apparent worthlessness, under the knowledge that if properly honed into a knife, it would be worth its weight in gold.
  • What an Idiot!: The zeks take out some rage in this manner on some Moldavian who fell asleep on the worksite and wasted their time holding up the prisoner count on the way back.


  1. the letter Щ is called "shcha", although the actual Russian pronunciation is closest to the Japanese "っしゃ" ("ssha")
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