What is the theme of the chapter "Lead" in The Periodic Table by Primo Levi?

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The "Lead" chapter of The Periodic Table appears to be a parable about greed and exploitation. From the start, the speaker tells us that his country is called "Thiuda" but that the neighboring peoples, who "are all our enemies," call them by different names, including Saksa, Nemet, and Alaman.

Obviously, the speaker's country is, or represents, Germany. The first of these names sounds like "Saxony," which is, in the form Sachsen, what the Germans themselves call one Land or (former) principality of their country. The second sounds like the Russian word for German, and the third, of course, is like the French word for Germany, Allemagne.

Though the narrative evidently is intended to date from a prehistoric time, the way the speaker describes himself seems to relate to modern Germany's actions, though in a heavily symbolic way. He tells us his name is Rodmund, which in German means (with a slight change in spelling but the same pronunciation) "Red mouth." His people, he says, don't like to cultivate the land for crops, and they overrun those others' lands which are cultivated. Instead, they are shepherds, hunters, and warriors.

Rodmund himself is, however, a miner and metallurgist, specializing in lead. Because the veins from which this metal is extracted have been used up in his own country, Rodmund journeys south to other countries to find new deposits in the earth. Eventually, after long travels, he reaches a distant land, an island, where he buys slaves to extract the metal for him, though by this time, he appears to be deteriorating physically, with, among other problems, his "gums turning blue," like those of some legendary ancestor of the Rodmunds who "came from the sea."

It's not difficult to see this as an allegory of cruelty, exploitation, and theft, but in the guise of primitive science involving the mining and smelting of valuable metal. It appears to be a parable not only specifically of Germany's twentieth-century actions in the Holocaust but those of humanity in general, with people grabbing resources from others and mistreating them. Rodmund may be an imagined figure from prehistory, but he is also a prototype of man's continued tendency towards unfairness and cruelty towards his brothers.

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The Periodic Table is a book written by the Holocaust survivor Primo Levi. It was first published in 1975. Each chapter is named after an element of the periodic table, which is the reason for the title of this book. “Lead” is one of these chapters.

The main theme of this chapter is the necessity and importance of earning money by doing what you know best. Sometimes in life, it is better to just continue doing what you are doing, rather than trying to insist on change. Lead is used as a metaphor for this in the story, as the narrator tells us that “lead is ... a metal which you feel is tired, perhaps tired of transforming itself and that does not want to transform itself anymore.”

The narrator is a miner. He and his family make money from identifying certain rocks and extracting lead from them. As the narrator has no more luck in extracting lead in the place that he is currently working at, he travels further away in order to find lead somewhere else.

During his journey, he needs to make money in order to continue. Rather than doing the odd job here and there, he continues to make money doing what he knows best: by using his knowledge of lead. For example, he receives gold for showing a man “the technique of smelting the lead, and precise instructions on the principal uses.” On another occasion, when he is beginning to run out of money, he helps a man producing mirrors: “on a still-hot pane of glass you can pour melted lead and obtain mirrors.” At the end of the chapter, the narrator finally finds the source of lead he had been hoping to find.

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Primo Levi's complex probing of the Holocaust, including his survival of Auschwitz and pre- and post-war life, is organized around individual elements. Some parts are factual memoir, others are fiction, and some read like fairy tales or ancient fales.

Two such fables, written while he worked as a chemist before joining the resistance, are paired according to the elements' radically different properties, also metaphorically present in people. These are lead, which is stable and represents stolidly persisting, and mercury, which is volatile and linked to instability and rapid change.

Levi incorporates the qualities of the element into the tone of the story and makes the character's personality compatible with those qualities as well.

"Lead" centers on a lead artisan, or smith, apparently in ancient times. His itinerant progress to find work takes him to many places and stimulates him to try different jobs and crafts. But lead is what he understands and excels at. Another quality of lead is that it is toxic. Continued exposure poisons the person who touches or ingests it. By not changing his craft, the leadsmith is signing his own death certificate. However, he is returning to his emotional home as well, to his pregnant wife, in time to meet their new baby before he passes away—a child who seems destined to follow his path.

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