One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: Chapter 7
Chapter 7 (pages 104-118 , what gangs do to a man–Der’s visit)
The narrator’s next comment relates to Pavlo’s metamorphosis from a powerful man raiding villages to an assistant gang boss ready to knock himself out for Tyurin. Shukhov and Kilgas and Senka and Tyurin get started on the walls with their picks, and Shukhov immerses himself in his work. Eight men are involved, working in pairs to transport the mortar without it freezing first and to lay the bricks up above. As Shukhov and Senka approach each other in the middle of the wall, they run out of mortar. The Captain and Fetyukov had been carrying up the bricks, but as Fetyukov can’t keep up, Tyurin switches him with Alyoshka, who happily takes orders from anyone. The building foreman Der arrives in his new quilted coat and observes their work. Shukhov can’t stand this nosy man from Moscow who aspires to be an engineer telling him what to do, reflecting “you should build a house with your own hands before you started talking about being an engineer” (114). He thinks back to the wood shacks back home and how despite having no stone houses where he comes from, it’s been relatively easy to add the art of bricklaying to the trades he has mastered.
Der has seen the roofing felt covering the windows and threatens Tyurin with a third sentence for the offense, and Shukhov is worried for his boss rather than himself, knowing Tyurin will loyally protect his men. But rather than meekly bow to the more powerful man, Tyurin recognizes the strength of his position, surrounded by a gang of men who will support him, and tells the lowlife former Minister that times have changed and that he’d best keep quiet if he knows what’s good for him. Pavlo lowers his shovel and retreats downstairs, and Der moves toward Kilgas, who ignores him. Der’s manner changes and he asks Tyurin’s advice about what to tell the building manager. Tyurin advises him just to say the felt was already there.
Gang 104 is like a well-oiled machine, functioning smoothly and efficiently and using the talents of the two craftsmen, Shukhov and Kilgas, to the advantage of all who complement their professional bricklaying by hauling the necessary materials despite the lack of proper hoists. Fetyukov is again portrayed as the weak link in the chain, and must be removed from his original post to instead work where his effort can be better measured. The suggestion is that he does not have what it takes to make it in the camp for the long term. Tyurin wisely recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of his men and shifts them around, highlighting his own managerial talent just before the arrival of the building foreman who, somewhat like Fetyukov, prefers watching others work to breaking his own back. His clean coat contrasts with the messy men working so hard they don’t pause to wipe their running noses, and it is obvious Shukhov and the others despise him. But unlike his previous powerful position as a Minister in Moscow, Der has been reduced to a fellow prisoner, and Tyurin refuses to be intimidated by his threat of reporting the addition of the roofing felt. Instead he counters the sniveling foreman with a threat on his life, and his men menacingly hold up their tools until Der both literally and figuratively backs down, asking what he should report rather than telling the offenders how this infraction will be punished. This shows clearly how different things are in the prison from how they are on the outside, and Der recognizes his weak position and lets the men carry on unmolested.