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WORK AT THE SITE Summary
When the prisoners arrive at the power plant, which is strewn with broken machinery, the day is cold, bright, and sunny. Tyurin (the gang boss), Pavlo (his assistant), and Caesar (a favored prisoner) go to the office to get the orders for the day. While they are gone, the prisoners try to warm themselves around a stove. Ivan, still aching with pain, takes out the bread from his coat and eats it. He remembers the days back home when he and his family had eaten potatoes and “pots of kasha --- hunks of meat and enough milk to make their bellies burst.” There was always plenty of food, and delicacies were at his command; unfortunately, he had failed to enjoy the food and would often gulp it down in a hurry.
As he eats the bread, Ivan looks at his fellow prisoners. He notices the two Estonians and realizes that they are inseparable; at the moment, the two of them are totally immersed in their own thoughts. He watches the Captain cursing Fetyukov, who pays him no attention; he is preoccupied with counting the cigarette butts he has collected. He looks at Kilgas and thinks about the man’s skill and sense of humor. When he watches Alyosha, who is busy saying his prayers, Ivan thinks about religious faith. Then when he looks at the deaf Senka Klevshin, he reflects on how the man endured Buchenwald, only to be sentenced to ten years of hard work in a Russian labor camp for collaborating with the enemy.
Tyurin finally enters to give the orders for day. The prisoners are formed into groups and allotted work according to their capacities. Ivan and Kilgas (a Latvian prisoner) are asked to cover the windows of the generator room in the morning and lay bricks on the second floor in the afternoon. Kilgas suggests covering the windows with some roofing-felt, a material that he has previously hidden. Ivan takes out his hidden trowel and proceeds with Kilgas get the needed material.
At the work site, Ivan feels sick and hungry as he waits for his orders for the day. Since he cannot do anything to alleviate his body aches, he tries to appease his stomach by eating the bread he has brought with him. It is significant that Ivan only seems to feel pain when he is idle; while he works, he has no time to think about how bad he feels.
As always, Ivan shows his sensitivity to others. He realizes that he likes the foreign prisoners more than the native Russians, who have been corrupted by the system. He notices the two Estonians and is moved by the closeness of their friendship. He pities the deaf Senka, who was thrown in a Russian work camp after enduring Buchenwald during the war. Ivan next thinks of Kilgas, whom he values for his skill and sense of humor. He also appreciates the religious fervor of Alyosha. Ivan judges Caesar to be dignified and even respects Tyurin for his discipline and sensibility. It is only Fetyukov and Der that he finds unimpressive.
Ivan thinks about the position of the gang boss. He believes that he is almost like a god, for he has authority over all his prisoners. Since he is control of food rations, he has direct power of life and death over the prisoners. Ivan thinks he is more important that the Camp Commander, who is never seen in the book.
Ivan always tries to think positively. Whenever he is faced with disappointment, he tries to get over it by looking at the positive side of life. When Kilgas expresses his disappointment at there not being a blizzard to prevent them from working, Ivan does not complain. He convinces himself that it is better not to have time off from work, for he believes that the prisoners would be made to work on Sundays as compensation for any days off.
When the work orders for the day are given, Ivan and Kilgas are paired together, which pleases Ivan. Tyurin knows that they are both good and responsible workers. He assigns them the job of brick laying and window covering. They immediately prove their resourcefulness, for Ivan is able to produce a trowel for the brick laying, and Kilgas has hidden some roofing felt, which can be used to cover the windows in the generator room.