In this chapter, Levi describes the process of chemical examinations where only the talented and educated few are chosen to work in a designated area, and they gain special privilege of being free from doing manual labors. I guess this chapter will be a critical turning point of the book as Levi’s lifestyle in the concentration camps will change dramatically. Previous chapters focused on describing how hard the situation was for him to manage and endure all the physical labors that fell unto his laps; however, I guess after this chapter, Levi would have many privileges over other prisoners due to his talent in Chemistry.
In reading this chapter, I had an impression that people in the concentration camps were forced to return to “primitive” way of living. They existed only for their survivals, and they did not have purpose in life because the physical suffering took away the time or even energy for them to think. “I took my degree…I have the definite sensation of not being believed, of not even believing it myself; it is enough to look at my dirty hands…I recognize it, it is the fever of examination, my fever of my examinations, that spontaneous mobilization of all my logical faculties and all my knowledge, which my friends at university so envied me”. This passage was spoken in such a powerful way that it seems I had been inside Levi’s memory for a second. To me, this quote suggested that prisoners in the concentration camps suffered so much that they even lost their ability to think or maybe they wanted to save the energy by not thinking. Thus, these harsh and oppressive conditions forced prisoners to lose their identity; they lost hopes, and the skills they had built in their whole lifetime, and they became plain “animals” who followed their instinct to eat, sleep and live.
Levi put this in humorous yet serious tone; he stated that he had to search through his brain to remember what he had been doing in his whole life. This suggested me how we must never lose our identity. Talents and skills you obtained so well that seems like innate ability you were given are one of many kinds that identify oneself, thus, those should never be forgotten because if Levi lost his skills and talents in Chemistry, he would have to be constantly suffering a severe physical labor.