If This Is a Man

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Analysis of Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man

If this is a man, a poem written by Primo Levi, serves as an introduction to the Auschwitz memoir of “If This is a Man”, stating its subject, scope as well as his aim. The purpose of the poem is to contrast the lives of those who live inside and outside the concentration camps. The poem evokes strong emotions of guilt, accusation and resentment within the reader and sets a tragic mood for the succeeding memoir that continues to develop and expand the description of the prison life at Auschwitz. By analyzing its structure, imagery, repetition and word choice it will be more understood why it impacts the reader so strongly.

The structure of a poem is often used to support its ideas and tone as well as improve its overall presentation. In addition, structure allows for the poem to flow more smoothly as it acts as a support to the rhythm. “If this is a Man” is written in free verse and consists of four stanzas, distinguished by indents. The first group of lines serves as a summary of the lives of those who lived outside of the concentration camp. The first indent visually separates the first and second stanza, which describes the life of the prisoners in the camps. Here, Levi contrasts two extremely different situations and makes it ever more clear by separating them with an indented line. In the third stanza Levi again speaks of the people on the outside of the barbed wire (concentration camps) and ends addressing the reader challenging them to remember what occurred (during the Holocaust) by repeating it to their children or may their “House fall (…) illness bay their way (…) and loved ones turn away”.

One of the most significant elements in the poem is Levi’s use of imagery as it plays a vital role in delivering the message to the reader. The vivid and detailed images depicted aid to contrast between the lives of very different people. Images of “warm houses” and “hot food” establish a comfortable and tranquil...
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