If This Is a Man

by Primo Levi
Start Free Trial

In If This Is a Man, describe the relations between the camp inmates. What are the differences between "the drowned and the saved"? What point is Levi making with his account of the hanging at the end of chapter 16?

In If This Is a Man, Primo Levi describes how the harsh environment of Auschwitz divided prisoners into the hopeless "drowned" and the "saved," who had found ways to survive. As one of the latter group, he was beginning to feel that he had mastered the system, until the execution of a courageous rebel made him ashamed of his comparative weakness in accepting his fate.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In If This Is a Man, Primo Levi describes the internal economy of Auschwitz as a much harsher version of the one which prevails in society at large. Goods are bought and sold in the camp as they are outside but with two vital differences. In the first place,...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In If This Is a Man, Primo Levi describes the internal economy of Auschwitz as a much harsher version of the one which prevails in society at large. Goods are bought and sold in the camp as they are outside but with two vital differences. In the first place, everything has to be stolen. In the second place, the items traded may mean the difference between life and death. This creates a predatory, adversarial relationship between inmates of the camp, where taking advantage of another's misfortune might be the only way to secure one's own survival.

In normal society, many people simply do as they are told and exist in a peaceful manner, without thinking for themselves or struggling for survival. In the harsher environment of the camp, however, such people are "the drowned." The only people who can hope to survive are those who adapt themselves to the camp and are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve their situation by exploiting whatever resources they have. These are "the saved."

Levi himself is one of the saved, a skillful organizer and trader. In chapter 16, he is beginning to feel that he has mastered the camp system of survival. However, at this point in the narrative, he witnesses the execution of a man who participated in an insurrection at the neighboring camp of Birkenau. The man cries out as he dies that he is "the last one." Levi feels ashamed to compare his own strategies for survival inside the horrendous system of the camp with the heroism of someone who dared to rebel against that system.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team