Why teach One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich?

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a Nobel Prize winning novel based on the real-life experience in the Soviet gulags of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The book was released under the premiership of the (relatively) liberal Nikita Khrushchev in an effort to discredit Stalin as part of his “destalinization” efforts in the Soviet Union.

The book is plainly written and remarkable for the fact that the day described, according to the prisoner, is unremarkable – or maybe even good. It is a beautiful, but sad story that allows students to ask questions about the nature of freedom, happiness, and what governs our relationships. Students may be struck by the banality of subject matter that proved to be so controversial.

This book also opens the door to talk about important instances in history of the use of internment and work camps even in Canada. Students are encouraged to ask questions about what allowed those camps to form in our past, and whether it could happen again. And, naturally, an opportunity exists to talk about the role of art in political opposition and social change.


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Study Guide

Exercise Sheets

Reveille and morning march: Exercises

The work site: Exercises

Evening march to lights-out: Exercises


Stalin’s purges and personality cults

One Day in context: Solzhenitsyn’s One Day: The book that shook the USSR – BBC News

Video: Stalin’s Purges (History.com)

The Great Purge of Stalinist Russia _ Guided History


Internment and work camps in Canada and the United States

Internment in Canada – The Canadian Encyclopedia

Japanese Internment: Banished and Beyond Tears – The Canadian Encyclopedia

Prisoner of War Camps in Canada – The Canadian Encyclopedia

First World War internment camps a dark chapter in Canadian history _ CTV News
(Video available here.)

Canada’s Concentration Camps – The War Measures Act

Dorothea Lange’s Censored Photographs of FDR’s Japanese Concentration Camps

German Internees in the United States

Dissident Art

The Singing Revolution and the Future of Music in Estonia – The Atlantic
(This story contains videos which you may wish to watch with your class here.)

Sainte-Marie, Cockburn on the return of the protest song and power of music – The Canadian Press

Film: Hammer and Tickle
(contact Moving Picture Institute for info)

Film: The Singing Revolution
(contact Moving Picture Institute for info)

Methods for Social Change


Prison and work camps today

North Korea prison camps very much in working order – Amnesty International

Russian prisons_ Slave labour and criminal cultures – The Economist

China’s ‘Re-education Through Labour’ camps: Replacing one system of repression with another – Amnesty International

The horrific conditions in North Korean labor camps – Business Insider

Graphic image of malnourished child within: Burma’s Rohingya Left to Die in Concentration Camps: Time