Introduction & Overview of A Good Day

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A Good Day Summary & Study Guide Description

A Good Day Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Bibliography on A Good Day by Primo Levi.

As a chapter in Primo Levi's 1947 Holocaust memoir Survival in Auschwitz, "A Good Day" offers an intimate, first-hand account of life in World War II concentration camps. The attempt by Nazi Germany to exterminate Europe's Jewish population in the 1930s and 1940s stands as one of history's most notorious episodes of racism and hatred. Millions died in camps created for the express purpose of genocide, and the majority of those murdered were of Jewish descent. It would be easy to simply acknowledge that the events occurred and avoid the details of what happened to these people, for they are appalling and brutal. However, for those who survived, the urge to bear witness—to make humanity confront what was allowed to happen and in doing so perhaps prevent such inhumanity from occurring again—often struggles against the instinct never to revisit such a debasing experience. Levi had the misfortune of being one of thousands of Italian Jews transported to the Auschwitz camp in Poland. He was one of the few to survive, return to his native land, and resume his life as before.

In this brief chapter, many of the major themes of Levi's book are expressed strongly, much of it based on the corruption of human achievement in the service of inhumane goals. The very hierarchy of the camp embodies such corruption. Far from being an undifferentiated mass, a number of factors lead to different levels of status among the prisoners, such as their reason for imprisonment, their ethnicity, and their length of imprisonment at the camp. Language also plays a part in the hierarchy. The gathering of prisoners from across Europe has created a cacophony of voices, creating a "Tower of Babel" at the Buna factory's Carbide Tower, where Levi works as slave labor during his time in Auschwitz. Moreover, the official language of the camps—German—is used to further alienate, humiliate, and confuse the prisoners, as many did not speak or understand it. As someone who deeply appreciates the virtues of work and craftsmanship, Levi sees how the slavery of the camps perverts those values. "A Good Day" examines how existence in the face of these dehumanizing conditions affects a person's mental state. As Levi writes in the preface of Simon & Schuster's 1996 edition, his aim in writing Survival in Auschwitz was to "furnish documentation for a quiet study of certain aspects of the human mind."

Though trained as a chemist, Levi balances a reporter's eye for capturing details of camp life with a poet's sensitivity to the toll the parade of injuries takes on the human spirit. Vivid images of harsh life in the Lager (camp) are often balanced by a philosophical perspective on the realities of human nature that is equally unforgiving. Levi explains the very notion of a "good" day in a situation as horrible as Auschwitz, asserting that humans can never be completely happy or unhappy, as they allow themselves only to consider the most immediate cause of such emotions. In the story, the promise of coming warm weather after a harsh winter allows the prisoners to stop thinking about the unrelenting cold, only to find themselves focused on their constant hunger. Then, by a stroke of good luck, even hunger is staved off for a few hours with an unexpected extra ration of soup. With these constant causes of unhappiness and discomfort momentarily alleviated, Levi describes how the men can briefly be unhappy—since one unhappiness is always replaced with another—like free men and concentrate on the troubles that have nothing to do with the camp. A "good" day is relative.

Amid this undeniable bleakness, Levi also describes small signs of hope—from the boast of the Greek Felicio that he will be home next year, to the painful dreams of home and food, to the reprieve gained on this one day—which prove the natural resilience of the human spirit. Levi wisely recounts these moments as well; as a result, his work is not only a powerful account of the a great abomination, but also a clear-eyed testament to the virtues necessary to defy such evil. As he warns in his preface, "The story of the death camps should be understood by everyone as a sinister alarm-signal."

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