One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: Chapter 10
Chapter 10 (pages 171-202 , Y-81–falling asleep)
Shukhov observes an old man from Gang 64 known as Y-81 who spent the day at the Socialist Community Development project his own group had been spared thanks to Tyurin’s payoffs. Shukhov marvels at how straight the man sits as he eats his soup, chewing with his gums as he has no teeth left. Shukhov admires the man’s resolve never to give in, and his practice of placing his bread on a clean cloth.
Shukhov finishes his meal and heads for Barracks 7 in search of tobacco. He is prepared to pay the one ruble going rate for a mug, having earned money from odd jobs such as making slippers or patching jackets. He finds the Latvian and asks to see his pouch of tobacco, and though he recognizes it as the same quality as last time, says it looks different and that he’ll try a smoke from one mug before seeing if he wants to buy a second. He tells the man to pack down the tobacco, and removes his two-ruble bill from the lining of his coat. Rather than having his smoke hurriedly here, he buys a second mug of tobacco right away and runs back to his own barracks in the hope of beating Caesar there. But Caesar is already there reviewing the contents of his package, spread across the bunk. As Shukhov hands over the bread ration, he notices Caesar’s eyes greedily take in the sausage, milk, fish, crackers, cookies and sugar. While Shukhov hopes for a portion of the goods, he is content with what he has received and climbs up to his bunk. He looks at his piece of steel and plans to make a knife to sell. Fetyukov comes in crying, having been beaten up for trying to scrounge extra food from someone. The Captain enters with a pot of tea and he and Caesar share their treats. The warder Snubnose comes in with a paper and asks Tyurin about the reports on extra clothing. Tyurin doesn’t miss a beat and calmly says they’re being written, though it is hard both because they’re illiterate and lack pens and ink. Although it’s Caesar and the Captain who are supposed to explain their extra clothing, it is Tyurin who covers for them, never at a loss for words. He similarly stalls to spare the Captain’s sentence of ten days in the cooler. Having hoped Volkovoy might let him off, the Captain has not thought to hide any tobacco in his jacket, but Caesar slips him some cigarettes and the men cheer him on as he leaves sheepishly.
There is a night check and Shukhov helps Caesar hide his package before leaving sometime around 9:00. Shukhov rushes to the front as Caesar comes out at the tail end trying to look sick. Although Shukhov doesn’t manage to get back to the bunk first, he watches the man who does and immediately sits on Caesar’s bed until his return. He then jumps up to his own bed, thanking God for his good day and thinking how much better it is to sleep in his own bed than the freezing cell where the Captain is. Alyoshka is reading the Gospels and hears Shukhov’s prayer. He suggests he pray harder and not just for his daily rations but for things of the spirit. Shukhov counters with the story of a rich man from his own church, which pains the religious man who claims the Orthodox Church has strayed from true faith. Shukhov states that although he believes in God, he objects to heaven and hell, and that it doesn’t make a difference anyway because his sentence remains unchanged. Alyoshka expresses his horror that Shukhov would want freedom rather than appreciate the opportunity to reflect on his soul from within prison where he is less distracted. But while Shukhov agrees it makes sense for the Baptist who was brought by Christ, he questions his own reasons for imprisonment, thinking it wasn’t his fault that the Russians were unprepared for war in 1941.
Just before a second night check, Caesar reaches up to give Shukhov two cookies, two lumps of sugar and a slice of sausage from his precious package. Shukhov eagerly accepts the gift, and further offers to hide the rest of the package in his own bed where it would be harder to steal.
The warder yells at him and he must jump down in his bare feet, despite having made slippers for so many others. They are herded out to the other side of the barracks and are counted, then permitted to return to their beds. Shukhov is delighted to tuck his legs into his jacket sleeve and he hands down Caesar’s bag. He is feeling so good he generously hands Alyoshka one of the cookies, pressing him to accept the gift even when Alyoshka recognizes that he doesn’t have very much himself. As he chews a bit of sausage, he happily reflects on his good luck and how unspoiled a day it has been, to be followed by another 3,653…
From the beginning of the last section, where Shukhov observes an older prisoner who keeps accumulating sentences without complaint, to the moment he falls asleep himself, Shukhov experiences personal growth. Much of this growth follows his conversation with Alyoshka. During the first portion of this section Shukhov can think of nothing more than Caesar’s food package, but after the second bed check something has changed. Rather than hoard his few tidbits for himself as he might have in the past, his spirit has been touched and he prefers to share. He is still the same man, reviewing the day’s events with a smile, but he is also happy to have connected on a spiritual level with a man who has something to teach him. In contrast to Caesar, who will continue to measure his success in terms of food, Shukhov has begun to think about his soul. Alyoshka’s words have made an impact on him, and he anticipates the rest of his sentence not with dread but with a sense of appreciation, embracing the opportunity to continue pondering the meaning of it all not just for his body, but also for his soul.