Man And Animal In Varlom Shalamov's The Snake

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In The Snake Charmer, Varlom Shalamov’s utilization of literary devices and contrast between man and animal fosters both the reality behind the treatment in the Gulag and the mindset of a prisoner in the Gulag. The frequent repetition of “they” and “him” within the passage introduces two subjects—man and animal. By doing so, the passage contains an added poetic comparison and relevant sense of identity during the Gulag. Evident within the first lines of the passage, “It’s not correct to say that man has ‘nine lives’ like a cat; instead, one could say of cats that they have nine lives- like a man,” the device chiasmus is utilized through the reversal of the first concept within the second clause. By reversing the comparison of men having nine lives like a cat and instead stating that cats have nine lives like a man—it is depicted that men directly experiencing the Gulag withstand and persevere hardships more than an animal would. Subsequently, despite the fact that men are treated like animals in the Gulag, it is portrayed that they maintain the ability to cling to their life as if they had 9 lives—placing their endurance above the animalistic perceptions of those running the Gulag.
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The contrast Shalamov’s proposes allows us to place ourselves within the train of thought of a prisoner—allowing us to distinguish between the perceptions and thoughts of different positions within the system. While a person with the position of running the Gulag may depict the life of a prisoner as nothing more than animal-like—our narrator allows us to delve further into the treatment of prisoners. The mindset of a prisoner is one of the most significant components when attempting to understand the Gulag so that the culture, prison, and specific mentality is more accurately
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