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

One could argue that the theme of the chapter "Sulfur" in The Periodic Table by Primo Levi is the primacy of mind over matter. In the story, an Italian worker remains calm and composed while trying to prevent a massive industrial boiler from exploding. That he's able to save the day is a testament to the power of mind over matter.

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In "Sulfur," an Italian boiler-man by the name of Lanza saves his factory from exploding by figuring out what's wrong with an overheating boiler. Without his hard work, scientific know-how, and ingenuity, the place would have been blown to smithereens, If the explosion hadn't been prevented, it would have represented a huge victory for matter in its never-ending war with mind.

It's fair to say that most people in Lanza's situation would've panicked; they would've let the forces of matter, as represented by the overheating boiler, have their way. They would've done this by running a mile in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.

But not Lanza. He's absolutely determined to get to the bottom of the problem, even though it puts him in imminent danger of losing his life. Staying remarkably calm throughout the building incident, Lanza uses the power of reason to figure out what the problem is. Once he's done this, he's in a position to fix the boiler and save his own life as well as countless others.

As both a trained chemist and someone who was the personal victim of Nazi irrationalism, Levi is well-placed to acknowledge the superiority of mind over matter. And in "Sulfur," as seen throughout the rest of the chapters of The Periodic Table, scientific knowledge is presented as the greatest single achievement of the rational human mind.

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