Study Guide

Life Is Beautiful Prejudice

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[Men run out of the uncle's home.]

GUIDO: Uncle!

UNCLE ELISEO: Barbarians.

GUIDO: Who were they?

UNCLE ELISEO: Barbarians.

GUIDO: Why didn't you cry for help?

UNCLE ELISEO: Silence is the most powerful cry. Is he your poet friend?

Guido arrives at his uncle's house to see a bunch of men running out; they've assaulted Eliseo. This is the first open act of prejudice in the story, and it's not entirely clear that the act is anti-Semitic—after all, they could just be random vandals. But it'll be come clear soon enough.

PRINCIPAL: We know. As you know, the inspector came to Rome to talk to us about the race manifesto signed by the most well-versed Italian scientists. He will, and we're very honored, demonstrate to us that our race is a superior race, the best of all. [Claps her hands.] Take your seats. Go ahead, Inspector.

GUIDO: Our race—

PRINCIPAL: Is superior.

GUIDO [laughing]: Naturally! Our race is superior. I've just come from Rome, right this minute to come and tell you in order that you'll know, children, that our race is a superior one. I was chosen, I was, by racist Italian scientists in order to demonstrate how superior our race is. Why did they pick me, children? [Jumps up onto the table.] Must I tell you? Where can you find someone more handsome than me?

Do we even need to dive into this one? It's a state-sanctioned discussion on why a nation's race is superior to other races, based on "science," of course. The best part of this racial screed is, of course, that Guido isn't Aryan. He's Jewish.

ELISEO: The usual barbarians, vandals. It's sad. What nonsense. "Jewish horse."

GUIDO: Don't get upset. They just did it to—

ELISEO: No. They didn't do it to…they did it "to." You'll have to get used to it, Guido. They'll start with you, too.

GUIDO: With me? What could possibly happen to me? The worst they can do is undress me, paint me yellow, and write, "Achtung, Jewish waiter." [Laughs.] I didn't even know this horse was Jewish. Let's go. I'll clean him up in the morning. [To someone else.] Take him back to the stall.

We learn that this is another anti-Semitic attack on Eliseo through his use of the phrase "usual barbarians," which mirrors his description of the attackers earlier. It's also telling that he refers to them as "usual."

What we're witnessing are the social restraints being slowly chipped away. Hatred is becoming the norm, and the result will be that the more atrocious acts in the second half of the story will become possible. The Nazis' M.O. was to gradually isolate and demonize the Jews so that their eventual deportation and extermination was just the next "logical" phase.

PRINCIPAL: Listen to this problem. I remember it because it shocked me. A lunatic costs the state four marks a day. A cripple, four and a half marks. An epileptic, three marks and a half. Considering that the average is four marks a day and there are 300,000 patients, how much would the state save if these individuals were eliminated?

DORA: I can't believe this.

PRINCIPAL: That was my exact reaction. I can't believe a seven-year-old child has to solve this kind of equation. It's a difficult calculation. Proportions, percentages. They need at least some algebra to do those equations. That's high school material for us.


RODOLFO: 300,000 times four. If we killed them all, we'd save 1,200,000 marks a day.

PRINCIPAL: Exactly. Bravo! But you're an adult. They make seven-year-old children do this in Germany! It's truly another race.

Another example of the normalization of prejudice throughout this society. The math problem is discussing euthanizing the sick, mentally ill, and other "unfit people" in order to save the state money, and Rodolfo's treating it like he's adding apples and oranges.

Side note: The idea of killing or sterilizing the "unfit" to improve genetic quality for the rest of a race or nation is called eugenics. Today, we tend to associate the idea with the European fascism of the mid-20th century, but the United States had its own love affair with the idea. In fact, many states passed eugenics laws at the beginning of the 20th century, and California's laws helped inspire Hitler's virulent brand of the social philosophy (Source).

GUIDO: What time is it? We're leaving right on time. What organization! You've never taken a train, huh?

JOSHUA: No. Is it nice?

GUIDO: It's really nice. It's wooden inside. Everybody stands up. There's not one seat.

JOSHUA: There aren't any seats?

GUIDO: What? Seats on a train? It's obvious you've never been on one. No, everybody stands real close together.

To protect his son, Guido pretends that the situation is normal, and sadly, in this society, it is. Over the years of developing its racial policy and spreading hatred, this society has decided this is the proper course of action regarding the Jews and other undesirables—load them into trains meant for cattle.

GUIDO: These guys are crazy! This has to weigh a hundred kilos! It's got to be 3,000 degrees in here. Vittorino, I can't cope anymore!

VITTORINO: After only the first one?

GUIDO: Why, are there more to move?

VITTORINO: We're here until tonight.

Nazis see the Jews and other prisoners of the concentration camp as less than human. With this view, they are able to treat them with extreme cruelty, working them to exhaustion and eventual death.

ELISEO: Are you hurt?

A man of dignity to the end, Eliseo's willing to help a Nazi officer who falls because he sees her as a fellow human being despite her brutal treatment of him. It's a small act, but it's a heartbreaking scene. The man's a class act.

JOSHUA: That we get cooked in the oven.

[Guido laughs tiredly.]

JOSHUA: They burn us up in the oven.

GUIDO: You fell for that, too! You just eat everything up. I've heard of a wood oven, but I've never seen a man oven before. "I'm made of wood!" "Take this lawyer!" "This lawyer doesn't burn. He's not dry enough. Look at that smoke!"

The gas chambers and crematoria of the concentration camps remain a haunting symbol of this horrific event in human history. Although Guido's trying to make light of the situation for Joshua, even the imagery of the words is sickening to contemplate. Warning: This photo of a crematorium can be disturbing. In fact, it should be.

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