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`One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich and `If this is a man

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What different forms of resistance to incarceration are presented in `One day in the life of Ivan Denisovichï’ and `If this is a man’?

‘One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich` and ‘If this is a man` are based upon the imprisonment and punishment of two individuals that represent the millions of people. Some suffered in the prisons of Russia during Josef Stalin’s reign from 1924 until his death in 1953 and others in Hitler’s death camps from. From criminals to protesters to people with different beliefs, almost everyone considered against the rulers of said country were thrown into Death Camps and prisons simply for expressing thoughts that weren’t completely what the leaders of those countries wanted to hear. Freedom of speech was something that didn’t exist in the 1930s and freedom to live was lacking as well.

In `One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich’ there are many men in that resist everything in their own way, from authority, to the lack of the value of money, to religious limitations. It is difficult to explain all the different factors which play a part resistance. Physical, mental, emotional, a simple thought can be considered resistance if it is the right sort. Most of those imaginable are found in these two novels.

Shukhov frequently resists mental control as we read his simple, yet effective thoughts. For example: �Come on, paw me as hard as you like. There’s nothing but my soul in my chest.� (page 32) shows that, although they have robbed him of all possessions that could maintain his humanity, there is the one thing can never steal: His soul. He maintains this theory throughout the novel by arguing in subtle ways and creating the illusion that he does what they want without question. “There was truth in that. Better to growl and submit. If you were stubborn they broke you.” (Page 41) They’re resistance was hidden, they did mostly as they were told, but not because they were accustomed to it, but because if they did otherwise they knew the consequences.

Shukhov’s squad leader, Andrei Prokofievich Tiurin faces a lot of problems whilst in the cam because if he makes one false move the entire squad pays for it. This is one of the main reasons why Shukhov and the rest of the squad respect him so much, he is more like a father figure to them. “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.” (Page 77). He cares about his squad and protects them in any way he can but keeps them disciplined at the same time. “In camp the squad leader is everything: a good one will give you a second life; a bad one will put you in your coffin.” (Page 36)

Every one in the camps is fighting for themselves and, to a certain extent, for they’re squad. But it could be argued that they do that because if the squad does well they do well. It all depends on if you look at it in a egotistic sense or not. Both ways, Shukhov seems to maintain and certain amount of dignity. “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.”

On the other hand, life in Auschwitz was placed upon not just men, but women and children, meaning that most things must be considered differently. The forms of dehumanisation in �If this is a man� are very different. They took away everything that was held dear.

The Nazis of the German Death Camps killed innocent people’s family and friends without warning, leaving the prisoners to wonder what had happened to their loved ones and whether they were ever coming back. They gave them work without purpose and let them feel they were worthless. They took away their names, they didn’t let them bathe, their hospital was the safest place to be and even then it wasn’t completely safe because if your injury or illness was too severe they would simply kill you. Recently I have found that Primo Levi himself once quoted, free from the bounds of his more solemn and emotion-lacking novel, that `I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man.� and I am shamed to say I agree, not only in Auschwitz, but throughout the world. Auschwitz reduced men to their lowest, and though there were a great amount that let themselves be pulled downward by the depths of despair, the majority tried their very best to survive.

Some attempts at resistance were unsuccessful, like the meeting of the Italians when Levi says “We Italian’s had decided to meet every Sunday evening in a corner of the Larger, but we stopped at once, because it was too sad to count our numbers and find fewer each time, and to see each other ever more deformed and more squalid.”(Page 42) It is difficult to stand the fact that the number formed in the small group of people that gathered on that day were becoming less and less and that those that remained were growing weaker and weaker. They were obviously so sure that the numbers would decrease to the point of extinction of that race in the camps that they could not bare to realize their destruction.

I have never known quite how to describe the insanity suffered by those who were trapped in the death camps, but I do know of one quote what could describe it:

“[…]precisely because the Lager was a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts; that even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last the power to refuse our consent. So we must certainly wash our faces without soap in dirty water and dry ourselves on our jackets. We must polish our shoes, not because the regulation states it, but for dignity and propriety. We must walk erect, without dragging our feet, not in homage to Prussian discipline but to remain alive, not to begin to die.”

(Page 47)

When he speaks of this you can see with clarity the agony they were forced to go through every day. But they have the tiniest speck of hope, even if most don’t see it as they have given up already. These people have been 99.9% dehumanized and they cling for dear life to whatever they can that could keep what is left of their humanity in tact. It must be the most difficult thing in the world to be reduced to something less than human, less than what they really are and have always thought to be.

But it must be known that, by going back to look once more at `One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich�, some attempts at resistance to imprisonment, though small and most likely not valued, were successful and made a huge difference. For example, in the short speech made by Kusiomin, who was Shukhovs first squad leader and was, in a way, described also as his mentor. “Here, lads, we live by the law of the taiga. But even here people manage to live. D’you know who are the ones the camps finish off?

Those who lick other men’s left-overs, those who set store by the doctors, and those who peach on their mates.” (Page 8) This short but powerful statement indicates that the men must show pride and not give in to the guards or the wardens or anyone else that works in the hell which they much call home for months, years, if not decades. They must resist the temptation to finish other men’s food and under no circumstances should they take the opportunity to ‘peach’ on one of their comrades, as its will most likely be immediate death sentence, served by said comrades, as mentioned previously in the novel.

In conclusion, the different forms of resistance to incarceration are presented in `One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich� and `If this is a man� are astonishingly great. Ranging from mental to physical resistance, from emotional to plain nonsensical resistance, from the smallest of movements to a grouped decision of the protection of others, these two novels display a shocking variety of resistance, some of which led some of the prisoners to die of natural causes, instead of the barbaric murders that some were sentenced to in `If this is a man� and `One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich�.

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