61 pages 2 hours read

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The Gulag Archipelago

Nonfiction | Biography | Adult | Published in 1973

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Fear-Driven Social Alienation

An important theme in The Gulag Archipelago is social alienation. This alienation manifests in many ways, with the people described as feeling they are disconnected from one another and the society they inhabit. At the beginning of the text, Solzhenitsyn describes the life of a free person in the Soviet Union. These people may be free in that they are not in prison, but they are not free to express themselves. They are scared and suspicious, as they are unsure whether anyone they speak to might be an informer. They are forced to guard their words and shy away from speaking too loudly on any matter out of fear of being sent to the Gulag. People therefore become suspicious of one another and socially distant, unable to form meaningful, lasting bonds with one another because they cannot bring themselves to trust anybody.

The alienation also manifests in an institutional sense. Solzhenitsyn describes the structures which ran the Gulag and mentions how the bureaucrats and the guards were too scared to make decisions for themselves. Any wrong decision could see them demoted or sent to the prison camps. They became paralyzed, dwelling on indecision.