In Schindler's List, how does the backdrop of war allow for the full range of human tendencies to emerge? 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most striking elements about the characterizations that Keneally renders is the idea that the war becomes the catalyst or canvass for the construction of human tendencies and identity to emerge.  If not for the war, itself, characters like Goeth and Schindler might not have acquired the level of significance that they did.  Consider that their backgrounds are fairly similar.  Both of them are raised Catholic, without much in way of indoctrination into National Socialism.  Neither one of them is raised with the direct intent of becoming a profiteer in war or a sadist who delights in human suffering.  Yet, the war is where these elements become illuminated.  It is the war, and the power that goes along with his command, that transforms the Catholic raised Goeth into the embodiment of evil that becomes the norm of the Nazi.  It is the war that becomes the element that motivates Schindler to make trunks filled with money, only to spend it all in the preservation of human life.  The war becomes the backdrop to both of their characterizations because it forces each of them to make critical decisions regarding their own sense of identity.  For Goeth, this becomes accepting the Status Quo of Nazi rule and seeking to do everything in his power to maximize his own gain from it on both psychological and financial levels.  For Schindler, the war is what drives him to profit, something that he had not experienced in his previous business endeavors.  Yet, in seeing the sum total of what the Nazi regime meant for so many, Schindler becomes motivated to work for change, vowing to "defeat the system," even at great cost to himself.  It is the backdrop of the war that enables these characterizations to emerge, providing the moments where an individual's true nature is brought out for all to see.  In the shooting of an innocent, one either moves towards it, like Goeth, or moves from it, like Schindler.  In the slaughter of many, one either moves towards it, like Goeth, or moves away from it, like Schindler.  In seeking to minimize the voices of others' suffering, one either moves towards it, like Schindler, or moves away from it, like Goeth.  The war provides the backdrop for these characterizations of what it means to be human, in all of its complexity, to emerge.