Ivan Denisovich essayIn his 17th century pem, To Althea from Prison, Richard Lovelace tells us that stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.
Thus Lovelace introduces and makes the reader familiar with the paradoxical nature of freedom. This paradox is raised again when comparing two legitimate visions of the modern world: Aldous Huxleys Brave New World and Alexander Solzhenitsyns One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich vividly describes and allows the reader to live through life in a prison, where an individuals rights are stripped away, and Brave New World introduces the reader to a fantasy world filled with sex, drugs, and a total lack of inhibition and self-reserve. Although apparently unrelated, both novels together describe what could be considered a modern hell. In Solzhenitsyns novel Shukov is stripped of his rights and his free will, while Huxleys characters are stripped of independence of thought and brainwashed into mindless decadence.
A comparison of the worlds created by Solzhenitsy and Huxley prompts us to redefine imprisonment of freedom, yet the brain that is enslaved in Huxleys novel is truly less free than the body enchained in Solzhenitsyn gulag.Alexander Solzhenitsyn carefully and tediously depicted what life is like in a prison. Ivans monotonous life prompts the reader initially to think that Ivans day is a living death of tedious details. Yet, in truth, Ivan is able to have free-flowing coherent and individual thoughts about the events of the day, despite the lack of excitement. An example of Ivans ability to engage in rational thought occurs early in the story. Ivan is forced to clean the floors of the guard room, requiring him to get the floor wet and possibly get his valenki wet as well. Realizing the importance of his valenki in the cold weather he decides to take his valenki off and put rags in them while he cleans the floor, so that they will be dry in the future.
By considering a way to keep himself warm later in the day, Ivan has really made the best out of a bad situation, thereby demonstrating an active mind and its will to live. Later in the novel when he eats his soup, Ivan notes that he is not taking soup from the top or the bottom, but perfectly balancing cabbage and broth, to enhance his soup eating experience. Once again, a seemingly minute and insignificant detail to the free man can be one of the few driving factors behind the life of a prisoner who discovers freedom in the ability to control and define small aspects of his existence. Therefore this story truly emphasizes the simple luxuries of having a mind. Even though Ivan does not have expensive possessions or beautiful women, he is able to enjoy his life by making the best of his surroundings, thereby making a physical hell one step closer to heaven. Almost completely contrary to the hell depicted in One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is the hell depicted in Brave New World. A person in todays modern world may not consider a life filled with sex, mind numbing drugs and a pleasurable job to be hell.
But when every individual is forced to exchange independence and consciousness for these pleasures, life is rendered pointless. To numb the anxiety aroused by thinking, Huxleys characters take large doses of soma, a drug that makes the individual devoid of moral inhibition and thought. After taking soma the character will forget any previous stress or discomfort.
In the novel, the young woman, Lenina, goes against the tradition and culture of the society by having only one lover for many months. After taking soma several times and after having a friend persuade her, Lenina decides to sleep with many men, as a normal person would in Huxleys world. Thus mindless conformity to a meaningless round of pleasure seeking imprisons individuals such as Lenina. In fact, the word individual is not relevant to the Brave New World since individuality is forfeited to mindless addiction. Soma finds its roots in the latin som for sleep. Huxleys citizens essentially sleep through life, never truly existing. On the other hand, Ivans mind is awake to every oportunity for a concious control over even the smallest aspects of his dally environment.
Sadly, it seems that the modern world is drifting toward a life depicted in Huxleys Brave New world. Computers spell for us, investigate research for us, and even think for us. We daily look toward machines to relinquish our pleasure. Moreover, drugs, such as Prozac are sought to level our anxieties by reducing individual reactions and regulate natural emotions.
The message seems to be that the less we feel, the less we think; the more contented we will be. An addiction to sameness seems to be our goal, through these mind-altering drugs. Yet it was great imagination, coupled with deep feeling that resulted in creative genius in the past. Would Beethoven been Beethoven on Prozac? Ivan Denisovich has discovered that owning ones own thoughts is vital.
Denisovich finds hope in his own ingenuity; his mind tells him he is still alive. He still owns himself. A society that opts out of free will by sleeping with soma is not really happy because it is neither mentally awake nor free. Modern man must not run from the pains of conscious though since this path is the way not only to hell, but also heaven.