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Anouilh and Levi: Dehumanization and Degradation


Literature is one of the types of art which charm everybody. Literature may entertain and give some food for thoughts, especially if we take into consideration some serious pieces of writing. Every work of any writer is called to deliver some important information to the reader, any writer inserts some special meaning in his or her characters. Literature is very symbolic, we often read some humorous piece of writing and then understand that the writer’s idea was deeper than it may seem from the first sight.


“Survival in Auschwitz” by Primo Levi and “Antigone” by Jean Anouilh are two literature works, where the authors represent the reader with two different interpretations of demonstrating the dehumanization effect versus the demonstration of basic sibling affection. These both literary works are aimed to convince the reader with their points of view that people may become very cruel in reference to each other. The works by Primo Levi and Jean Anouilh represent the reader with different situations where cruel people’s nature is revealed. These both books show the cruelty and terror directed to Jews by Fascists. The authors of these literary works represent the reader with the terrifying aspects of people’s life and death under the Nazi Germany government.

These both writings show the world that there is a human cruelty directed to living beings, to people. The main idea of the “Survival in Auschwitz” by Primo Levi is to show the reader the horrible position of Jews in Auschwitz. The historical event which is the main consideration in the book is Holocaust, during which thousands of people were gassed and murdered only because they were Jews. The telling of the story starts with December 13, 1943, when the narrator, and the protagonist in one person, was captured by Fascists. The protagonist was very young and did not quite understand what will happen in future and how his Jew nationality will destroy his life.

There were a lot of prisoners in the Lager, where Jews had to work hard and be afraid to be taken in the gas chamber every day, or even every minute. There were a lot of situation when only luck or chance saved one people and sentenced to death the others, “Those who by chance climbed down on the side of convoy entered the camp; the others went to the gas chamber” (Levi 2008-9). There were people who knew their destiny, and that knowing made a relief, people who knew that they will dye in several days were free from hesitation whether they will be able to live one more day or not, “Beppo who is twenty years old and is going to the gas chamber the day after tomorrow and knows it and lies there” (Levi 2008-124) without any emotion. Beppo may even felt a relief, he knew that that the death is near and that he should not hesitate and guess what will be tomorrow.

The murdering of one person by the other is one of the main features of demoralization, degradation. Dehumanization is one of the main sins which a human being may cause. Dehumanization, presented in the book by Levi, shows us that human “life or death can be lightly decided with no sense of human affinity” (Levi 2008-16). The horrors and terrifying aspects of Holocaust, which are the main idea in the book “Survival in Auschwitz” by Primo Levi, are described very realistically. The protagonist was the participant of the situation, what creates an impression while reading, that you are also one of the prisoners, who wait for their destiny with fear of unknowing.

“Antigone” by Jean Anouilh is the modern version of Socrates’ “Antigone”. The main difference is that Jean Anouilh adapted his play to the modern political situation which existed during those times. The Jean Anouilh’ play had an aim to give power and hope to people who appeared under the Nazi Germany. Antigone is a woman who wants to fight against the whole world to show her disagreement with people’s cruelty. Her brothers were killed and the only thing she wants is to bury them, to show the last piece of respect to them. The forbiddance to do this awakes a fighting desire in her soul, she wants nothing but justice and can do everything to reach her aim. Antigon wants either everything or nothing, “I do not want to be sensible and satisfied with a scarp – if I behave myself! I want to be sure of having everything, now, this every day. Otherwise I prefer to die!” (Anouilh 200-123)

Antigone wants to show the whole world that it is not human not to bury any person, that “people who are not buried wander for ever in search of rest” (Anouilh 200-107), she insists that it is inhuman not to bury any person. While talking to the king, who forbidden to anyone to bury Antigone’s brother, she exclaims, “What a dream for a king! To be like animal!” (Anouilh 2008- 115). In this exclamation is the whole idea of the play. People who care only about themselves, people who do not care about other people’s life are not people, they are animals.

Antigone shows her sibling affection, which is stronger than the feeling of the future death. She would better dye than allow “animals” to leave the body of her brother on the road as carrion for scavengers. She is eager to protect her brother’s body at any price, even by the cost of her own life.

These both literary works aimed to show people who were not people, the authors wanted to depict them as animals, which kill each other without understanding that life is given to every living being not for simple, not just to be given. Life of every person is sacred, and nobody is given the right to kill the other person, no matter which principles or ideas they follow.

The remembering of Primo Levi in the book “Survival in Auschwitz” are the historical evidences which he suffered and survived. Fascists are presented there as animals, as cruel, blood-thirsty and inhuman objects, who do not care that they kill people. The only fact which matters is that people they kill are Jews. And the question appears: Are Jews not people? Fascists care only about their own lives, without even thinking about the fact that they kill Human Beings, the same People as they are.


Modern world is also full of cruelty and terrfying murders. People kill each other very often without any reasons, without understanding that while killing they are not people any more, they become animals and do not deserve human relation to themselves. The literary works of these authors give us a vision of ‘people-animals’, who even do not understand (or do not want to understand) their further fate. There is a good saying, treat other people in the way you want to be treated, and ‘people-animals’ will carry the responsibility for their actions either in this life or in he other.

Works Cited

Anouilh, Jean. Five plays: Antigone. Hill and Wang, 2000.

Levi, Primo. Survival In Auschwitz. Classic House Books. 2008.


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