One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: Metaphor Analysis
Bread sustains the prisoners both physically and spiritually, and is among the most important symbols in the novel. Shukhov is constantly hiding and hoarding his daily ration, and Alyoshka persuades him to stop focusing on his unending quest for more material sustenance and to instead focus on the spiritual satisfaction referred to in the Lord’s Prayer, whose reference to “our daily bread” he interprets more metaphorically. The Baptist’s efforts are successful, for towards the end Shukhov gives him one of his pieces of bread, knowing the other man can never pay back this favor, demonstrating he has come to prioritize his soul over his body for the first time. He derives such pleasure and experiences a thorough sense of joy at the novel’s end, suggesting this choice has brought him the peace he had been seeking through more physical channels all along.
Caesar’s packages are a rare reminder of the luxuries of the world outside the camp, which arrive regularly and are shared generously by this one man unaffected by the mass deprivation experienced by the rest of the prisoners. In contrast to Shukhov who subsists on bread and thin porridge, Caesar receives fine foods such as cured meat and cheese which represent all the pleasurable experiences life offers outside such harsh prison conditions. His name is a reference to Jesus’ advice in the New Testament book of Matthew to “render unto Caesar” that which is Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.
Shukhov struggles to understand this distinction, since he has become accustomed to dedicating his energies to earning nourishing rewards from the rich man, but with Alyoshka’s help comes to realize the pleasure of searching for spiritual rather than only material rewards.
The metal spoon that Shukhov carefully hides in his boot after each use is a symbol of his individuality, for no other prisoner appears to possess such a useful tool. While the camp attempts to erase the minor differences among the prisoners, Shukhov struggles to maintain his sense of uniqueness, cleverly hiding the existence of his spoon from the camp authorities. It is clearly his most prized possession and from it he derives his sense of identity and hope in retaining a sense of self despite the forces against him.
The Bible Alyoshka carefully hides and protects represents the spiritual life he prioritizes over the worldly wants suffered by all the prisoners. As Shukhov spends his days figuring out how to get an extra ration, the Baptist instead reads his precious book and reflects on the relative unimportance of the material world, thinking instead about his soul and the world to come.
Like, the spoon, Shukhov’s knife is a rarity in the camp, but this tool, designed to cut rather than nourish, is one he makes and carries with the intent to either sell it or otherwise derive benefit that will sustain him. It represents his ability to fashion useful objects out of raw material available, in small quantities, and even this is difficult to obtain as it requires careful hiding from the guards and risks ten days’ punishment if caught. As his making of the knife illustrates, Shukhov is a constructive person, a builder by trade and by persuasion. He prefers to make rather than destroy, unlike the system in which he finds himself, designed to annihilate human differences and cut down each man’s sense of pride and individuality.
Bricks figure prominently in the novel, as the building material which Shukhov is expert in cutting and configuring to make the walls required by the prison officials. He is a careful and quick worker, and his efforts lead towards a building that will warm and protect its inhabitants, unlike the multiple walls and gates which separate the men venturing between the camp and the areas in which they are given labor projects.
The moon is referred to frequently in the text, coolly looming overhead in the cold night air and reminding the prisoners of a world beyond the confines of the camp. Although they have no watches or means of telling time, the daily trajectory of the sun and moon remind them of home and hope. Shukhov asks the Captain about what happens to the old moon at the end of the month, displaying an ignorance of science that might embarrass another man, but Solzhenitsyn finds no fault with his honest simplicity.