Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

Cancer Ward

It was a universal law: everyone who acts breeds both good and evil. With some it's more good, with others more evil. (90)

But it was not will power, it was sheer blind cold terror. It was not from will power but from fear that he clung to his job as long as he could, putting off the operation. The whole of his life had prepared Podduyev for living, not for dying. The change was beyond his strength, he did not know how to go about it; he kept pushing it away by staying on his feet, going to work every day as if nothing had happened, and listening to people praising his will power. (97)

When he was young Yefrem had heard, and knew it was right about himself and his friends, that they, the young people, were growing up smarter than the old folk, who never even made it to town, they were scared, while Yefrem rode horses and fired pistols at thirteen, and by the time he was fifty had pawed the whole country about like a woman. But now, as he paced up and down the ward, he remembered how the old folk used to die back home on the Kama—Russians, Tartars, Votyaks or whatever they were. They didn't puff themselves up or fight against it or brag that they weren't going to die—they took death calmly. They didn't stay squaring things away, they prepared themselves quietly and in good time, deciding who should have the mare, who the foal, who the coat and who the boots. And they departed easily, as if they were just moving into a new house. None of them would be scared by cancer. Anyway, none of them got it. (100)

"In the place you were born," Sibgatov insisted quietly, "you don't even get ill. Everything's much easier in the place you were born."

Only a prisoner in his first year of sentence believes, every time he is summoned from his cell and told to collect his belongings, that he is being called to freedom. (263)

The cells of the heart which nature built for joy die through disuse. That small place in the breast which is faith's cramped quarters remains untenanted for years and decays. (263)

Which place on earth should you love more? The place where you crawled out of the womb, a screaming infant, understanding nothing, not even the evidence of your eyes or ears? Or the place where they first said to you, "All right, you can go without a guard now, you can go by yourself"? (264)

Nowadays we don't think much of a man's love for an animal; we laugh at people who are attached to cats. But if we stop loving animals, aren't we bound to stop loving humans too? (273)

After all, I am not asking for a long life. Why should I want to peer deep into the future? First I lived under guard, then I lived in pain, and now I want to live just a little while without guards and without pain, simultaneously without one or the other. This is the limit of my ambition. —Klostogov (299)

But Vadim was unable to console anyone for long, nor did he wish to. "Come on now," he said, "you're not the first one it's happened to. Others have put up with it, you'll put up with it too."

In this case, as in every other, he was being just and impartial. He had asked for no consolation himself, and if offered it, he would not have accepted it. There was something spineless, religious even, about every attempt to console. (304)

What sort of person do you have to be to believe? —Shulubin (438)

But can there really be a whole nation of fools? No, you'll have to forgive me. The people are intelligent enough, it's simply that they wanted to live. There's a law big nations have—to endure and so to survive. When each of us dies and History stands over his grave and asks "What was he?" there'll only be one possible answer, Pushkin's

In our vile times
...Man was, whatever his element,
Either tyrant or traitor or prisoner!"

—Shulubin (438)

Capitalism was doomed ethically before it was doomed economically, a long time ago. (444)

Even before this I thought a lot about the supreme price of life, and lately I have been thinking about it even more. How much can one pay for life, and how much is too much? It's like what they teach you in schools these days, "A man's most precious possession is his life. It is only given to him once." This means we should cling to life at any cost. But the camps have helped many of us to establish that the betrayal or destruction of good and helpless people is too high a price, that our lives aren't worth it. As for bootlicking and flattery, the voters in the camp were divided. Some said it was a price one could pay, and maybe it is. But what about this price? To preserve his life, should a man pay everything that gives it color, scent, and excitement? Can one accept a life of digestion, respiration, muscular and brain activity—and nothing more? Become a walking blueprint? Is this not an exorbitant price? Is it not mockery? Should one pay? Seven years in the army and seven years in the camp, twice seven years, twice that mythical or biblical term, and then to be deprived of the ability to tell what is a man and what is a woman—is not such a price extortionate? (300)

They talk about 'democratic' socialism, but that's just superficial, it doesn't get into the essence of socialism. It only refers to the form in which socialism is introduced, the structure of the state that applies it. It's merely a declaration that heads will not roll, but doesn't say anything about what this socialism will be built on. You can't build socialism on an abundance of material goods, because people sometimes behave like buffaloes, they stampede and trample the goods into the ground. Nor can you have socialism that's always drumming on about hatred, because social life cannot be built on hatred. After a man has burned with hatred year in, year out, he can't simply announce one fine day, 'That's enough! As from today I'm finished with hatred; from now on I'm only going to love!' No, if he's used to hating he'll go on hating. He'll find someone closer to him whom he can hate. (445)

Zoyenka, how can you tell which part of the world you'd be happy in, and which you'd be unhappy in? Who can say he knows that about himself? (39)

As they met his, Zoya's lips were not open, soft or slack. They were taut, ready and eager, as he realized in a single flash. A moment before, he hadn't remembered, he'd forgotten that all lips are not the same, that kisses can be different, that one can be worth a hundred others. (242)

"So you see," he said, "that's what ethical socialism is. One should never direct people toward happiness because happiness too is an idol of the market place. One should direct them toward mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to."

"Oh no, I want happiness, you'd better leave me with happiness," Oleg insisted vigorously. "Just give me happiness for the few months I have before I die. Otherwise to hell with the whole..."

"...Happiness is a mirage." Shulubin was emphatic, straining his strength to the utmost. He had turned quite pale. "I was happy bringing up my children, but they spat on my soul. To preserve this happiness I took books which were full of truth and burned them in the stove. As for the so-called 'happiness of future generations,' it's even more of a mirage. Who knows anything about it? Who has spoken with these future generations? Who knows the idols they will worship? Ideas of what happiness is have changed too much through the ages. No one should have the effrontery to try and plan it in advance. When we have enough loaves of white bread to crush them under our heels, when we have enough milk to choke us, we still won't be in the least happy. But if we share things we don't have enough of, we can be happy today! If we care only about 'happiness' and about reproducing our species, we shall merely crowd the earth senselessly and create a terrifying society ... You know, I don't feel very well ... I'd better go and lie down." (447)