Who is “model survivor” in a special camp? Solzhenitsyn portrays an array of characters who manage to survive many years in a special camp, living under some of the most brutal conditions known to humans. They are in many ways different, but what is common in all of them is how they prioritize their needs. If we use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we can see that “survivors” focus primarily on physiological needs as most important ones, then on safety needs, next on belonging needs, esteem, and finally self-actualization.
Some of the physiological needs are breathing, water, food, sleep, or homeostasis. Solzhenitsyn describes in great detail how different prisoners satisfy their need for food. Some, like Shukhov, are resourceful and do little work or favors for others (e.g., sewing slippers for others or waiting in line for Caesar’s package). Some are scavengers, like Fetyukov, who is hunting for leftovers or simply begging or stealing food from others. There are those such as cooks, barbers, or others in position of “relative power” that had relatively unlimited access to food. There is also an emphasis on sleep deprivation among prisoners and how they try to beat the system to get a few minutes of sleep before morning count or on Sundays.Other needs are also important to some extent. Consider esteem, for instance. Solzhenitsyn insists on importance of self-esteem that Shukhov has. He knows that he can lay bricks perfectly, even in windy, sub-zero degree weather. He is respected for that by his gang leader Tyurin and his assistant Pavlo, which means preferential treatment when it comes to food or other needs. But Shukhov also respects his fellow gang members for who they are and what they can do. Yet, this same Shukhov will first and foremost take care of his own food, sleep, or health needs (e.g., drying his boots in the best spot overnight), and his other actions are mostly a function of his basic needs.