The main themes of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich are authoritative oppression and camp survival. Specifically discussed are the prison officials' cruelty and spite towards their fellow man. Solzhenitsyn explains through Ivan Denisovich that everything is managed by the camp commandant to the point that time feels unnoticed; the prisoners always have work to do and never have any free time to discuss important issues.
Survival is of the utmost importance to prisoners. Attitude is another crucial factor in survival. Since prisoners are each assigned a grade, it is considered good etiquette to obey. This is outlined through the character of Fetiukov, a ministry worker who has let himself into prison and scarcely follows prison etiquette. Another such incident involves Buinovsky, a former naval captain, who is punished for defending himself and others during an early morning frisking.