The Periodic Table

by Primo Levi

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What is the theme of the story "Uranium"?

The theme of the story is freedom in storytelling.

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“Uranium” is a short story from the book The Periodic Table, which was written by Primo Levi and first published in 1975. Primo Levi was a Jewish scientist and Holocaust survivor. In The Periodic Table, Levi reflects back on the events in his life. Each chapter is named after a chemical element and deals with a different incident in Levi's life.

In the short story “Uranium”, Levi tells us about his experience when working in customer service for a company. One day, when trying to get business out of a potential customer, this customer tells Levi a story. This links in with the big underlying theme of this short story: the theme of freedom in storytelling.

The man claims in his story that he was given Uranium by German soldiers. He promises Levi to send him a sample. However, when Levi analyses the sample more closely, it turns out to that it is not Uranium at all and that the story he had been told was a lie.

The man clearly invented the story, but Levi is not offended by this. Instead, he admires the man for the freedom he has. He states that he “envied in him the boundless freedom of invention,” as this allowed the man to “build for himself the past that suits him best.”

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