In If This is a Man by Primo Levi. How does Steinlauf and Alberto resist any surrender of their identity?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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For Levi, Steinlauf and Lorenzo represent the essence of not capitulating to conditions that immerse the individual.  Levi writes about them with a considerable praise because they embrace the transcendent in a world of the contingent.  They resist any surrender of their identity because of this transcendence, something that they believe will not wither even in the harshest of treatment by the Nazis.  Steinlauf makes this clear in his assertion to Levi that the purpose of survival is to represent a force of transformation, to serve as a record of what is being done.  Steinlauf is operating on a level of personal awareness being transformed to social good, something that causes him to resist any surrender of his identity because of his commitment to a cause that is elevate.  In much the same way, Lorenzo refuses to surrender his identity because he is driven to care for others.  When he shares his rations with Levi, it becomes evident that his mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis will not trade off with his belief in sacrificing for others or helping others out.  His selflessness and sense of honoring the bonds with other people enables him to use this as a type of shield to deny the surrender of his identity.  In both characters, it is the belief in the transcendent, in something universal, that prevents them from succumbing to the contingent and base that dominates life during the Holocaust.


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