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THE NIGHT CHECK ON PRISONERS Summary
Ivan climbs on his bunk and takes out the metal piece. He thinks about shaping it into a needle that can be used for stitching or mending shoes, allowing him to make some money. Before he goes to bed, he carefully hides the metal piece.
The lowly Fetyukov enters the barracks with a miserable look on his face and tears in his eyes. Ivan thinks he has probably been beaten up in the mess hall. Next the Captain enters, carrying a pot full of tea, which the generous Caesar has given him from his new package. Next a snub nosed warden enters the barracks and asks for Buynovsky. Tyurin tries to ignore him, but the Captain presents himself to the guard. As he is taken out to serve his ten days of solitary confinement, the others try to cheer him.
A call is sounded for the night check of prisoners. No one wants to get out of his bunk to be inspected by the guards, but each prisoner knows he will be punished if he fails to be present. Caesar is in a real dilemma. He has just opened his package and spread its contents, mostly food, out on his bunk. He knows that if he leaves the food out, it will be stolen in his absence. He desperately tries to stuff everything in his jacket, to no avail. When Ivan sees what Caesar is doing, he offers to help. He will go out to be checked while Caesar remains on his bunk to guard his possessions; when Ivan comes inside, Caesar can go out for the check while Ivan guards his things. The plan works, and Ivan is rewarded by Caesar with sausage, candy, and sugar cubes from the package.
When Ivan returns to his bunk, he thinks about his day and is pleased that so many good things have happened to him. He has eaten several extra rations, has done a good job in brick laying, has found a metal piece that was not discovered by the guards, and has received several special treats from Caesar. Most important, he has survived another day.
Ivan is a disciplined prisoner who does his duty, respects his boss, and obeys the command of his officers. Additionally, he is a sensible and resourceful man who devises means to make life in the labor camp bearable. Ivan is also cautions, keeping his eyes and ears open in order to avoid trouble. Though he is in possession of a knife, a spoon, and a metal piece, he hides them carefully and uses them cautiously. In contrast to Ivan, Caesar is not the least bit sensible or resourceful. He relies on packages of luxuries from home and bribery of the officials. Unlike Ivan, he does not have the stamina or cunning to survive on his own.
Ivan is respected and trusted by his fellow prisoners. When he sees the dilemma of Caesar, he comes up with a plan to help him, an amazing and generous act since Caesar always looks down upon him as a simple Russian peasant. But in spite of his condescending attitude, Caesar trusts Ivan and agrees with the plan for guarding his food. He then rewards Ivan with several edible luxuries out of his most recent package. In total contrast to Ivan, Fetyukov is respected by no one. He begs for extra food, irritates people by hovering around them, shirks work, and expects rewards for nothing. According to Ivan, he “just didn’t know how to do things right.”
The solitary confinement of the Captain begins in this chapter, and everyone tries to be especially nice to him. Caesar gives him some tea to make, and Tyurin tries to protect him from the warden, who has come to take him away. As he leaves, all of the prisoners try to cheer Buynovsky. They know they may never see him again.
The continued cruelty of camp life is again seen in this chapter. There is not enough space around the stove for the wet footwear of the prisoners. As a result, many prisoners will have to put on damp shoes the next morning, greatly increasing their misery and their chance of frostbite. When the prisoners are comfortably settled in their bunks, the guards enter and call them out into the miserable cold for a night check. Ivan accepts the inconvenience without complaint. Then when he is finally able to settle down for the night, he is thankful that his day has gone so well. It is amazing that he can be so positive in the midst of such misery.