In If This Is a Man by Primo Levi, what are the main themes?

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Primo Levi's story of survival in Auschwitz focuses on these central themes:

  1. Humanity-- As the title suggests, Levi's book examines the horrors of degradation suffered by death camp inmates.  His experiences define the lows of humanity, but also the small triumphs.  Levi's book sets out to prove his own humanity and that of all the inmates of the camps, despite starvation, abuse, hunger, torture; he uses his wits and intellect to survive and maintain his humanity.
  2. Survival-- At its core, If this is a Man is about survival against all odds.  The characters face hardship and death on a daily basis.  They are starved, beaten, killed routinely, inadequately clothed and rarely given medical attention.  Levi's story speaks of determination and incredible wit and cunning.  The characters who survive do so because of their ability to adapt and make do within the rigid confines of their environment.  The Nazis believed "Arbeit macht frei" (Work will make you free), but Levi's story proves that it is really personal determination and a will to survive that ultimately leads to true freedom.