CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
NOTE TO READER: For ease of discussion, the novel has been divided into twenty sections. Each section is presented under an appropriate heading and deals with a particular episode in the life of Ivan.
EARLY MORNING Summary When reveille is sounded at five a.m., the prisoners in the camp must rise and start their work for the day. Ivan Denisovich usually arises at the first sound of reveille in order to do some extra chores, which can earn him additional food; however, on this particular morning, Ivan does not get up, for he feels sick and lethargic. He slept poorly the previous night, and now his whole body is aching. The thought of going outside and working in the freezing cold when he feels sick makes him feel even more miserable, especially since he fears that the prisoners will be sent to work at the barren Socialist Development site, where there will be no shelter from the unrelenting cold. Rather than getting up, Ivan lies cuddled up in bed and plans his course of action for the morning. He decides he will tell Big Ivan, the benevolent warden, about his illness. He will then go to the infirmary.
As Ivan stretches himself out in his bed, he listens to the sounds around him. Alyosha and Buynovsky carry the latrine tanks, while the orderlies fight over the hot water. The captain talks about the freezing temperature outside, and the assistant boss of the next gang complains about the reduced rations. Alyosha, a devoted Baptist, then says his morning prayers.
The book, which will describe one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, appropriately begins with the sound of reveille, which wakes the prisoners. Ivan is usually one of the first prisoners to rise, but today he stays in bed, for he is not feeling well. He plans to tell the warden that he is ill and needs to go to the infirmary.
As Ivan lies in bed, he listens to the sounds around him. He is able to visualize the activities of the men through their speech and the noise they make. He knows that Alyosha moves the latrine tank before he offers his morning prayers. He also hears the orderlies arguing over the hot water, the captain talking about the freezing weather, and the boss of the next gang complaining about the reduced rations. Even though Ivan is the only character that is actually presented in this opening episode, other characters are introduced through Ivanís thoughts.
Although there is little action in this opening episode, the character of Ivan immediately begins to develop. He is normally a good worker, who is one of the first to rise and get started in the morning. As of late, however, he has been feeling sick. Since he slept very little the previous night, he is feeling particularly bad this morning and is aching all over. The thought of going out into the freezing cold is more than he can stand. As a result, this logical man decides on a course of action. He will talk to the warden, a nice man, and ask to be put on the sick list and hospitalized.
In addition to being logical, Ivan reveals that he is confident and sensitive. He feels certain that he can convince the warden to admit him to the infirmary. He also listens to the sounds going on around him and is able to visualize the activities of his fellow prisoners and some of the officials.
A picture of life in the Siberian prison camp also begins to emerge. The men live in close quarters and are treated poorly. They are roused from their sleep early in the morning by a cacophonous reveille, composed of clanging metal sounds. There are inadequate rations, which motivates Ivan to do extra chores in hopes of earning additional food. The prisoners are also sent outside in the freezing weather to do manual labor.