In Primo Levi's book If This Is a Man, what does he show us about how people are prepared to survive?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Part of what makes Levi's work so powerful is that he constructs a very wide and open view of how individuals behave in the worst of elements.  The question is not "Why" people behave the way they do or why people act in a certain manner to survive.  Levi makes it clear that his construction of Auschwitz “Hier ist kein warum, which Levi understands as “There is no why here.”  It is in this mold that Levi displays the depths to which people struggle to survive.  It is not one in which judgment is passed or some type of perception is validated, but rather an expression of the human condition that speaks to different conditions of reality. When Levi talks of Schepschel, who regards himself “as a sack which needs periodic refilling" or Alfred L. who no longer associates himself with the world or the cunning deceit of Henri, it is a reality that the drive to survive encompasses different elements of being in the narrative.  Levi understands this condition of what it means to be human as one survival takes on different forms and part of the experience of understanding the Holocaust is to try to do so without stifling any of these expressions with judgments:

...survival without renunciation of any part of one’s own moral world—apart from powerful and direct interventions by fortune—was conceded only to very few superior individuals, the stuff of martyrs and saints.

The element of attachment is something that defines so many in the Holocaust experience that Levi wishes to display this in its totality without judgment or curtailing perception.  In this, Levi is able to show what humans are capable of doing in the name of survival.