Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., And Primo Levi Essay, Research Paper
Awareness and Advocating for Change
We as human beings go through countless experiences in a lifetime. Many of these experiences are not necessarily positive ones. Many of us think about these unbearable experiences, and that is all we do; think. It is every so often that one of us human beings has a thought, and follows through with an action for change. This is the point of cause and effect; i.e., think and do. What does writing do? What power is behind a pen? What effects can writing cause, and why do people write about specific things? What is action? What brings on change? War, a popular topic of debate; how does a war start? When is there peace? What brings on peace? What happens after war? How do we remember war? What often goes unnoticed in the topic of war and peaces are those who advocate change. War is often over a change that needs to be made, be it political or social or what have you. In order for change to occur, the issue at hand must be properly introduced to the people it is effecting, then be introduced to the person who is willing to take action, or who ever can transform the situation and initiate change. Who are these people that bring change?
Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Junior, and Primo Levi are all people who have played a major role in writing, preaching and creating an impact, speaking on behalf of those who can not speak or express themselves as others can, perhaps out of fear or for the fact that they are no longer living. All three men have experienced extreme degrees of discrimination, and were willing to bring up painful pasts for the sake of awareness or change. They each have a different reason to write, yet they each write on behalf of those who have experienced a harsh reality of life, the same realities they have experienced themselves, racial discrimination.
Mohandas Gandhi symbolizes the nationalist movements of India, though he used the message of peace and love, rather than war and destruction. One time an outstanding lawyer in South Africa, Gandhi gave up practicing law and returned to India in order to help ease the suffering of the repressed people of his homeland(Brown, 22).
Gandhi’s love for people and his religious passion made him a revolutionary in many of his ideas and actions. He desired to see India freed from British rule in a bloodless revolution, similar to the “Glorious Revolution” of seventeenth century England. Knowing that violence only increases violence, he began the practicing of passive resistance or as he called it, “satyagraha” which means “truth soul” (Ambedkar, 12). In his famous salt march in 1930, Gandhi and thousands of others marched to a coast where salt lay on the beaches to protest the British governments’ restriction against the Indians making their own salt. Though many were beaten, arrested and killed, no one fought back. Over the course of his life he led three major rebellions, rallied support for nonviolent strikes, urged Indians to boycott anything British, and supported women’s rights.
Gandhi possessed many characteristics of a great leader. His love for the people of India was limitless, he wanted nothing more than to serve and help them. Always putting others above himself, he sought to make himself even lower than the lowest member of the Hindu caste system. He even humbled himself to the point of sweeping up excrement left behind by others, hoping to teach people that disease was spread in filth. One of his most famous qualities was that he led by example and never taught what he was not willing to do himself.
A common quality between Gandhi and many other great leaders was that no matter what he did he did it to the best of his ability. He once said:
“No matter how insignificant the thing you have to do, do it as well as you can, give it as much of your care and attention as you would give to the thing you regard as most important. For it will be by those things that you shall be judged.”
He gave up his life and material possessions, fasted, suffered for his people and their cause. He showed that passiveness does not indicate weakness and became a leader in the purest part of the world.
Maybe Gandhi’s greatest gift to the world happened long after his assassination in 1948. Few people realize that had it not been for his influence, we may have never witnessed or read in this country Martin Luther King Jr.?s famous speeches and writings, or Nelson Mandela’s struggle in oppressed South Africa, or even be aware of such currant issues as Mumia Abu Jamal?s struggle regarding the oppression within the political and judicial system. These people and many more who have followed in his footsteps admire Gandhi’s leadership ability and his legacy that will continue for many centuries to come.
Another one of the world?s best-known advocates of non-violent social change was Martin Luther King Jr. The image of a social activist and leader was the result of broad formal education, strong personal values and ethics. This excellence in leadership can be traced to his character that is shaped by his moral values and personality. We look at Martin Luther King Jr. and these characteristics to reveal the reason of his rise to leadership in our society. His behavior was in line with his values and beliefs and was presented in accordance with the task at hand, which at that time was the importance of morals and ethical relativism in our society.
Through studying the life and example of Martin Luther King, Jr., we learn that his moral values of integrity, love, truth, fairness, caring, non-violence, achievement and peace were what motivated him. King is not great because he is well known; he is great because he served as the cause of peace and justice for all humans. King is remembered for his humanity, leadership and his love of his fellow man regardless of skin color. This presence of strong moral values developed King?s character, which enabled him to become one of the most influential leaders of our time. King?s ability to speak the truth is another value that made him such an influential leader. This ability is one reason why King was asked to be the leader of so many important protest marches and sit-ins.
King?s followers believed that he would speak nothing but the truth but in King?s famous ?Letter from Birmingham Jail?, he could only hope that what he had written will be seen as the truth:
If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.
Martin Luther King also uses quite a lot of figurative language such as similes, metaphors and personification. He uses these devices to make it easier for his audience and or readers to understand exactly what he was talking about. Martin Luther uses a lot of complex vocabulary words but one can easily figure out what they are in the context of what figurative language he uses with them.
Bellow is an example of this language he uses in his Letter From A Birmingham Jail;
So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice?Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/9061/afro/birmingham.html).
It is obvious that King?s character was strongly influenced by his caring and compassion for all human beings, regardless of skin color. King?s ability to show how he cared for his fellow man was evident in the way he was able to get deeply into the hearts of people through his famous speeches. King cared so much for his people that during 1963 he traveled about 275 000 miles and made more than 350 speeches in his efforts to reach his fellow men.
Perhaps what makes us in awe of these people is the fact that they have experienced first hand how it feels to be discriminated, and perhaps they are willing to share it with us as Primo Levi had in his book, Survival In Auschwitz. Survival in Auschwitz is an autobiographical account of how such men came to be. It is Primo Levi’s story of being captured as an Italian partisan in December 1943 and shipped to Poland as a Jew. The book begins with the horribly accurate sentence; “It was my good fortune to be deported to Auschwitz only in 1944…” (Levi, 9). He takes us carefully through every stage of existence in the camps: a four-day train trip in crammed boxcars with nothing to eat or drink, midnight arrival, the first of many summary interrogations that led to either a slavish existence or swift death. Clothes taken, hair shaved, naked and cold, already starving: and this was just the beginning. The beginning of a painful account, pain he sacrificed so that we can be informed. So that we never forget what humans are capable of. The number–174517–was tattooed on Levi’s left arm in 1944 when he became a prisoner at Auschwitz. He bore it, and the memories of that hell, for the rest of his life.
The camp, or lager, is a society with certain unforgiving laws, many of which are derived not from the guards but the prisoners. ?Survival of the Fittest? is the main law. The camp is divided between those who will drown and those who will survive. It does not take much to drown. “It is enough to carry out all the orders one receives,” Levi says, “to eat only the ration, to observe the discipline of the work and the camp”. In other words the society is set up so that if one follows the rules, one dies. A man has to be cunning. He has to finagle extra rations of soup and less-strenuous workloads. He spoke of how the prisoners were not united against their enemy but rather on the contrary. Every waking moment you had to keep an eye on your clothes, bowl, or spoon, or another prisoner would steal them. There was no pity for your fellows. Pity lead to death.
“Ka-Be” is the camp term for the infirmary, and through a work accident Primo winds up there. It’s a dangerous place because the worst cases are sent to the furnaces; but it’s also a chance to not work, to live in limbo. “Ka-Be is the Lager without its physical discomforts,” Levi writes. “So that, whoever still has some seeds of conscience, feels his conscience re-awaken; and in the long empty days, one speaks of other things than hunger and work and one begins to consider what they have made us become, how much they have taken away from us, what this life is” (Levi, 55).
Because of Levi’s background as a chemist, he has a chance for a job in a laboratory and is then interviewed by a Doktor Pannwitz, one of the few Germans we actually meet in this account (the Lager seems almost self-running, with ?Kommando? heads or ?Kapos? selected from the non-Jewish prisoners).
“From that day I have thought about Doktor Pannwitz many times and in many ways… Because that look (he gave me) was not one between two men; and if I had known how completely to explain the nature of that look, which came as if across the glass window of an aquarium between two beings who live in different worlds, I would also have explained the essence of the great insanity of the third Germany.”
These are the words Primo uses that let us understand, allow us a peek into the life, the words that touch souls, and create an impact. Also, these are the words, which were no doubt painful to right, the memories painful to remember, but awakened for us to become aware, and to speak for those who no longer have a voice.
Levi survives because he has caught on to the system, he had strength to survive, and he also had luck. He is in the infirmary when the camp ships out before the oncoming Russian Army. No one knows what happened to those healthy enough to march. Levi, meanwhile, must suffer only the cold, the infectious diseases, the hunger, and the chaos the Germans leave in their wake. He reminds us of this. I know, reading this account that I would not have survived; I would have been among the drowned, and quickly. These emotions are stirred in me as I read his words, as I imagine my self as Primo Levi.
The future of Holocaust remembrance relies upon survivor testimony, since only it can provide a human connection to the Holocaust, that is so important to understanding any event. For example, in Survival in Auschwitz Primo Levi takes a rather undramatic approach to the Holocaust yet his words speak volumes to the emotional experiences that are so central to Holocaust recollection. “Dawn came on us like a betrayer,” he says this as he prepares for exportation from his native town, “The different emotions that overcame us, of resignation, of futile rebellion, of religious abandon, of fear, of despair, now joined together…uncontrolled panic,” (Levi, 16). The fall of the human spirit that Levi describes here is a good emotional description that we as human beings can connect to, by truly understanding the extent of his emotions and suffering, hence, reading his words. If we cannot understand on a basic human emotional level, the importance of what happened, then we cannot understand what occurred at all. A survivor?s testimony is the key to comprehending the horror that came upon millions of innocent people. The emotional connections we can make with Levi’s descriptions are fundamental to our ability to feel suffering when we read dreadful images and descriptions of individual human suffering.
It is not only Primo Levi?s account of events which strike people, but all of his writing. Included in the book is a poem by Primo Levi, which clearly tells the reader that Levi is making it his duty to pass on this information to us;
?Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or no?
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts?
Repeat them to your children? (Levi, 11).
This is Primo Levi not only relaying this information to us, but also telling us to take part, for we too have a duty, we must also pass on this information. Meditate that this came about.
We are being told by each one of these advocates to meditate on what has come about, we are given information so we can pass it along. These are the people who bring about change through language and action. From them we have learned the power behind a pen, the power behind our voices, no matter what it has done to them. We need to, as human beings, make sacrifices as these med have, sacrifice our emotions, our safety, our status. For only after sacrifice can people learn and understand, as we have from these advocates.
Brown, Judith M. Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1989
Levi, Primo. Survival in Auschwitz. Trans. Stuart Woolf. New York:
Collier Books, 1993.
Ambedkar, B. R. Gandhi and Gandhiism. Jullundar: Bheem Patrika