One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: Chapter 8
Chapter 8 (pages 118-140 , Der leaves–the sleeping Moldavian spy is found)
After Der’s departure in near disgrace, having been unable to throw his weight around, somebody comes to say the hoist won’t be fixed. Shukhov thinks how machines all too frequently break down or are intentionally broken by prisoners who want a break. As they finish the fifth row, Gopchik announces that Gang 82 has turned in their tools for the day. As the sun sets and the weather gets even colder, Shukhov redoubles his efforts and shouts to the Captain to bring more bricks. The forty-year-old newcomer is physically unable, but Alyoshka cooperatively complies, and the mortar keeps coming. Despite his dislike of rush jobs, Kilgas, too, keeps going, and it is Tyurin who recognizes they have to finish up. Shukhov thinks of how his trowel won’t be missed since it came from his secret hiding place and not the tool shed, and suggests the others go ahead while he finishes the job. Tyurin comments how irreplaceable he is, and Kilgas trots off with the trowels. Shukhov jokes about the workday being too short, and he and Senka quickly use up the remaining mortar before clambering down the ladder and across the compound. Shukhov remembers to stash his trowel away carefully under a rock, not knowing when their gang will be back on this work site. Senka has waited for him and the two men dash across the field only to be reprimanded by the others for making them wait. Although Tyurin has taken the blame on himself, the men shout and spit at them so much that even deaf Senka hears them and shouts back, prompting laughter.
The men line up by fives and as he catches his breath Shukhov asks the learned Captain about where the moon goes, only to be stared at in disbelief for his ignorance at thinking there is a new moon each month. He shares that in his village it’s said that God breaks the moon up into stars, and the Captain asks him whether he believes in God, which he does.
The Captain and Shukhov are last in line, and it appears there are only 462 men rather than the expected 463. They are recounted, all time taken away from their evening routine, but again they aren’t all there, and next line up by gangs. It’s been such a busy day that Shukhov notices very few of the men have collected scrap wood to try to get through to warm the camp. This collective approach has its merit, and as the escort guards also benefit from the increased temperature they rarely make men leave it behind. Caesar joins the group, outraging Shukhov by asking the Captain how it’s going and even giving him some tobacco.
It turns out the missing man is from Gang 32, and the search for him begins in earnest. Shukhov hypothesizes it’s the Moldavian they said was a real Romanian spy, unlike the many phony spies infiltrating each gang. Shukhov is one of five of that kind of “spy,” just because of having been a prisoner of war. By contrast, the Moldavian is believed to be an actual spy and his absence prompts suspicion of escape. If he’s found it’s likely his fellow prisoners will rip him to shreds, angered at the time they’ve lost while looking for him. As they wait, Caesar and the Captain talk about Eisenstein’s film Potemkin, while the others wait until the Moldavian is discovered sleeping on the scaffold. After yet another count, the men are let through the gates and walk from the towers across the compound. Someone asks the Captain why he knows so much about the British navy and he answers he once spent a month on a cruiser, an experience that could not possibly contrast more with his present circumstances in the camp.
The men waiting to go back to camp are turned into near animals in their desperation, ready to turn on any who delay their return to relative warmth. Shukhov is depicted as unlearned but the narrator does not seem critical of his ignorance of the cycles of the moon. Rather, he seems to respect Shukhov’s honest questions far more than the presumptions of the supposedly learned men who ask far dumber questions, such as Caesar’s to the Captain of how he is, having spent the day in the warm office while the newcomer was breaking his back in the cold. The confrontation between Shukhov and the Captain over the moon illustrates the conflict between the scientific logic advocated by the Soviet regime and the continuance of Russian folk beliefs and religious sensibilities in the population as a whole. Shukhov’s explanation, that the moon disappears because God crumples it up into stars, expresses an attitude of religious wonder and awe, something that cannot be explained scientifically, and suggestive of a power that lies beyond the power of the Soviet state—something that the authorities did not enjoy hearing about.