One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Enhance reading comprehension with a with a guide that presents a brief overview of the novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, followed by teaching ideas to be used before, during, and after reading the literary work.
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Topics for Activities
The following can be used as topics for journals, essays, discussions, or other activities for the whole class, small groups, or individual students.

1. Research your own ethnic heritage. What customs, traditions, beliefs, etc. are a direct result of this heritage?

2. Observe people while they are eating. What distinctive eating habits do they have?

3. What time of the day is all yours and what do you do with it?

4. Write a "One Day in the Life of Yourself'" detailing your habits, rituals, events, and thoughts.

5. What kind of people are tattletales (squealers)? What do you think of them and what does society think of them?

6. Describe the worst hardship you have ever had to endure. What personal qualities and outside assistance helped you to survive?

7. In a poem, describe the coldest you have ever been.

8. Without using words typically associated with cold (i.e., ice, blue, numb, shivering, chattering, etc.), write a poem describing cold.

9. Tell about a time you wished for a disaster to happen to prevent you from having to do something.

10. Describe some of your prized possessions and discuss ways you protect them.

11. Describe your perfect place to get away from it all.

12. Describe your favorite time of day. What makes it special?

13. What is the worst time of the day? What makes it unpleasant for you?

14. What do you think Shukhov's number means? Why?

15. Describe a meal that reminds you of home of some other special place.

Quotations from the Novel
The following are significant quotations which may be used as journal prompts, as items for discussion, and/or as response generator.

"Work was like a stick. It had two ends. When you worked for the knowing you gave them quality; when you worked for a fool you simply gave him eyewash."

"From the outside, everyone in the squad looked the same-their numbered black coats were identical-but within the squad there were great distinctions."

"Anyway, you should never be conspicuous."

"How can you expect a man who's warm to understand a man who's cold?"

"There was short weight in every ration. The only point was how short. So every day you took a look to soothe your soul-today, maybe they haven't snitched any."

"No on had served his term in this camp."

"Come on, paw me as hard as you like. There's nothing but my soul in my chest."

"The thoughts of a prisoner-they are not free, either."

"Writing now was like dropping stones in some deep, bottomless pool. They drop; they sink-but there is no answer."

"Easy money weighs light in the hand and doesn't give you the feeling you've earned it."

"They hung on to each other so closely that you'd think one would suffocate unless he breathed the same air as the other."

"Better to growl and submit. If you were stubborn the broke you."

"You don't talk much in such cold."

"Either you all got a bit extra or you all croaked. You're loafing, you bastard-do you think I'm willing to go hungry just because of you? Put your guts into it, slob."

"You've only to show a whip to a beaten dog."

"A couple of ounces ruled your life."

"The days rolled by in the camp-they were over before you could say 'knife.' But the years, they never rolled by; they never moved by a second."

"Yes, you live with your feet in the mud and there's no time to be thinking about how you got in or how you're going to get out."

"They were transforming him from an eager, confident naval officer with a ringing voice into an inert, though wary, zek. And only in that inertness lay the chance of surviving."

"Art isn't a matter of what, but of how."

"A guard can't get people to budge even in working hours, but a squad leader can tell his men to get on with the job even during the break, and they'll do it. Because he's the one who feeds them. And he'd never make them work for nothing."

" Thank God for the man who does his job and keeps his mouth shut!"

" Pavlo lifted his spade.

He hadn't grabbed it for nothing.

And Senka, for all his deafness, had understood. He came up, hands on hips.

And Senka was build solid."

"You can push a man this way, and you can push a man that way."

"Everyone was elated. As elated as a rabbit when it finds it can still terrify a frog."

"Who's the zek's enemy? Another zek."

"That's what everyone used to say: 'Going home.'

We never had time to think of any other home."

"That bowl of soup - it was dearer than freedom, dearer than life itself, past, present, and future."

"He had less and less cause to remember Temgenovo and his home there. Life in camp wore him out from reveille to bedtime, with not a second for idle reflections."

"And now they had nothing more to say to one another - the sacred moments had come."

"The belly is a demon. It doesn't remember how well you treated it yesterday; it'll cry out for more tomorrow."

"So leave envy to those who always think the radish in the other fellow's hand is bigger than yours. Shukhov knows life and never opens his belly to what doesn't belong to him."

"Glory be to Thee, O Lord. Another day over. Thank You I'm not spending tonight in the cells. Here it's still bearable."

"Why do you want freedom? In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds."

"Freedom meant one thing to him - home."

"There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail. Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days. The three extra days were for leap years."

Detailed Study Questions
The following questions are especially useful for helping low-ability and average students follow the plot. Assigned to small groups or individual students, they can also be sued as discussion starters, writing assignments, formal study guides, a test review, etc.

Early Morning, Before Breakfast
1. How and when did the guard sound reveille, and why did he not sound it for long?
2. Why does Shukhov never oversleep reveille?
3. What advice did Kuziomin (the first squad leader) give the new men?
4. Which part of his advice does Shukhov dispute and why?
5. Why does Shukhov linger in bed this morning?
6. Why does Tiurin (the squad leader) look worried this morning? What is his very important "job" this morning?
7. How will Tiurin accomplish this "job?"
8. Who is "One-and-a-half," and how does he figure into Shukhov's decision to stay in bed?
9. What is the orderlies' first job in the morning, and what does this job reveal abut living conditions in the camp?
10. What makes Shukhov decide to report sick?
11. How does Shukhov's decision to stay in bed go awry?
12. What is Shukhov's reaction to his punishment? Why does he react this way?
13. What do all articles o Shukhov's outer garments have in common?
14. At what temperature is it too cold to send the prisoners out to work? What does this tell you about working conditions in the camp?
15. What is Shukhov's actual punishment for sleeping in? What is his reaction to the Tartar's justice?
16. Describe the different types of footwear Shukhov has worn while a prisoner. How has this experience affected the way he treats his footwear?
17. Describe Shukhov's dental condition. What was its cause?
18. How does Shukhov was the guards' floor? Why does he do it this way?
19. What is the difference between working the knowing and working for a fool? Why is this knowledge important?

20. Why does Fetiukov keep Shukhov's breakfast for him?
21. Why does Shukhov eat his cold breakfast slowly? What does this say about his life?
22. Describe the typical breakfast served in the camp.
23. What is the best and worst time of the year to eat in the camp?
24. Describe the rules of etiquette that Shukhov follows at breakfast.
25. Describe Shukhov's most prized possession and how he cares for it.

After Breakfast, Before Work
26. Why does Shukhov avoid the Tartar?
27. What is the physician's assistant's reaction to Shukhov's reporting sick that morning?
28. What is Shukhov's reaction to sitting in the clean, warm infirmary?
29. How often do the prisoners bathe?
30. What is the new doctor's attitude toward the sick prisoners and work?
31. Why was Vdovushkin chosen as a medical assistant?
32. After his temperature is read, what are Shukhov's options?
33. What can be assumed about general health care in the camp?
34. How is the time after breakfast, before the march to work, used by the guards and prisoners?
35. What is waiting on Shukhov's bunk when he comes back?
36. How does Shukhov put his skill as a tailor to work to save his bread?
37. What is Aloysha's most prized possession, and how does he protect it?
38. What does Shukhov wear to go to work? What does this say about the conditions under which he will be working?

The March to Work
39. What is Tiurin's reaction to the junior guard's complaint that squad 104 is late? What does this say about Tiurin?
40. Why do the squad members immediately give Tiurin a share of any food they get from the outside?
41. What is the problem with the numbers each prisoner must ear?
42. Why does Tsezar give his cigarette butt to Shukhov instead of Fetiukov?
43. Why does Shukhov say Volkovoi is named appropriately?
44. How did the morning and evening prisoner searches differ?
45. What is the purpose of the morning's extra vigilante searches?
46. Why are the guards so vigilant in their counting of the prisoners?
47. Describe the rules the prisoners must follow during their march.
48. Why is Shukhov unexcited about the prospects of writing home?
49. What is Shukhov's wife's dream for when he returns? What is his reaction to this dream?
50. Why does Shukhov describe Tiurin as a "true son of the Gulag?"
51. What is the importance of the squad leader? How do his men treat him?
52. What do the men do as soon as they step onto the building site?
53. How did Tsezar get his job as assistant to the rate inspector?
54. What is the "proper" way to eat?
55. What is Shukhov's opinion of Estonians?

The Workday, Before Lunch
56. Why is Fetiukov such a jackal?
57. Why are snowstorms both good and bad?
58. What is Shukhov's first work assignment, and why was he chosen for it?
59. What is Shukhov's attitude toward good tools, and to what lengths will he go to support this attitude?
60. Why do the prisoners work so hard?
61. Who does Tiurin give the wheelbarrow jobs to and why?
62. What is the most important thing a squad leader does?
63. What has Gopchik already learned? What proof does Shukhov give?
64. How are days and years different in the camps?

65. Why must you never put your feet up to the stove?
66. Why do the men consider Shukhov "lucky?"
67. Why is Shukhov skeptical about his "luck?"
68. Why is Shukhov in prison? What really happened?
69. What do the men know about Senka?
70. What "new" thing had been happening at the camp?
71. How much grits does each man get for lunch? Why don't they get more?
72. What is Shukhov's job at lunch? What does this job say about the conditions there?
73. How does Shukhov use his wits to secure more food at lunch?
74. Why doesn't Shukhov automatically get an extra bowl of food?
75. What important transformation is Captain Buinovsky undergoing? Why is it so important?
76. How does Tsezar's job compare to that of the other men in the company?
77. What does Shukhov find on the ground, and what does he do with it and why?
78. Why is Tiurin in a good mood after lunch? Why is this important?
79. Why was Tiurin kicked out of the army?
80. How did Tiurin get on the train? What good fortune did he have once he was on board? How did he repay this good fortune in the future?

Building the Wall
81. What is the difference between the guards' power over the men and the squad leaders' power over them?
82. What makes Pavlo work so hard that day?
83. What kind of worker is Shukhov? What is the advantage of having an attitude like his?
84. How does nature conspire to force the masons into doing a good job?
85. What is one of the benefits of hard work?
86. What kind of worker is Fetiukov, and how does Tiurin "reward" him for his efforts?
87. Why does Der threaten Tiurin, and how do Turin and his men react?
88. Why does Shukhov insist that Pavlo and Senka let him set the last few blocks of the day?
89. Why did it take an agreement among the squad leaders to get the squads to quit at the same time?
90. Why were the men anxious to not be late reporting to the gate?
91. What does Shukhov's refusal to throw away the mortar tell us about him?

The March Back to Camp
92. What was the most frightening part of arriving at the gate late?
93. What made the guards' recounting so irritating?
94. Why was it so important to be the first column back to the camp?
95. What game did the prisoners and the superintendent play every night before the men left the work site?
96. Which prisoner was missing at the camp? What was special about him?
97. What would the zeks do the missing prisoner if the guards gave him to them? Why?
98. How did Fetiukov mess-up the count? What was the guard's response?
99. Why is S311 in the camp? What is ironic about this?
100. Why do the zeks refuse the guard's order to "step lively?"
101. Why do the zeks decide to run after all?
102. Why were the zeks from the machine works so thoroughly searched?
103. Who did Shukhov say was the zeks' main enemy? Why?
104. What does Shukhov offer to do for Tsezar? Why does he make this offer?
105. What does Shukhov realize just before the guards search him? What decision does he make? Why does he decide to do this?
106. By which guard does Shukhov choose to be frisked? Why did he chose this one?
107. Why does Shukhov fear being thrown in the prison?
108. What makes the dinner soup so dear to the prisoners?

Back in Camp
109. What is the writing surface of choice in the camp? Why?
110. How do the guards handle and distribute the parcels? Why do they do it this way?
111. Why did Shukhov tell his family to stop sending him parcels?
112. What bad news did Shukhov learn while standing in line? What does he attribute it to?
113. Who breaks line in front of the zeks? How do they get away with this?
114. Why does Shukhov offer to bring Tsezar his supper to the barracks?
115. How does "the Limper" decide whom to hit and whom not to hit? What does this say about him?
116. Describe the head cook. Why is he so powerful?
117. Why does Shukhov say Gopchik will do well?
118. What tow things does Shukhov have to take care of while passing out the stew?
119. Why was the dinner stew usually thinner than the morning stew?
120. Why is this a "red-letter day" for Shukhov? What does this say about life in the camp?
121. Describe prisoner U81. What makes him stand out?
122. Why is money not so important in the camp? What can be purchased with it?
123. How did Shukhov earn money?
124. Why does Shukhov refer to the tobacco as the "stuff?"
125. What was one "good thing" about the camps that was better than at Ust-Izhma?
126. Why didn't Shukhov ask Tsezar if he had received his parcel?
127. What makes getting a parcel not as wonderful as it first seems?
128. What happened to Fetiukov that makes Shukhov prophesy he won't make it to the end of his term? What is wrong with Fetiukov?
129. Why does borrowing someone's knife obligate you to give him something in return?
130. When dealing with the guard, "Snubnose," how does Tiurin once again prove his skill as squad leader?
131. What happens to those who serve ten "hard" days in the cells? Fifteen days?
132. How does Tsezar demonstrate his lack of understanding of camp life? How does Shukhov help him?
133. What happens anytime a zek gets warm? Why?
134. What is Shukhov's response when Aloysha urges him to pray?
135. Why does Aloysha say you should not pray for freedom?
136. What does freedom mean to Shukhov? Why has he quit hoping for it?
137. How does Shukhov sleep to keep warm?
138. Why did Shukhov go to sleep content?

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