In If This is a Man by Primo Levi, what are examples of the challenge to survive?

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

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Survival is approached in different ways in Levi's work.  Its fundamental challenge is appropriated through different paths in the form of different characters.  In these different approaches, the challenge to survive is evident in that survival in the camps is not presented as a monolithic reality.  The challenge to survive lies in the fact that there are no direct answers, nothing is concrete. There are no simple answers, only different paths that confuse and confound.  In this, the challenge to survive is evident.  

Consider the approach of Steinlauf, who argues to Levi that survival is necessary as a matter of record.  If one is convinced that the camps represent the greatest horror that an individual can perpetrate upon another, then survival must be fought for at all costs in order to tell the narrative so that it does not get repeated.  In this instance, survival is linked the the greater cause of humanity.  Lorenzo demonstrates the challenge of survival in a social context through his benevolence to Levi.  In this example, survival is seen in the eyes of solidarity with another.  It is not merely an individual act, but rather one of social commitment.  Another example of the challenge to survive is found in individuals such as Alfred L., who severs the bonds between he and all other human beings, or Slovak, who has to survive through betraying others at all costs.  In these instances, the challenge to survive is met through different approaches.  Neither is praised or denigrated by Levi, himself, who would rather take the role of silence in letting the narrative of the Holocaust speak for itself in which the challenge to survive is the only chord that resonates.


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