The Ethical Complications of the ‘Gray Zone’:
An Analysis of the Gray Zone in The Drowned and the Saved
April 20, 2018
When people hear the term ‘gray zone’, many ideologies and implications of that word may pop into their head, after all the word is used quite frequently in a variety of fields throughout everyday life. When dealing with criminals in the court of law, the reasoning why many of them are sometimes able to avoid being convicted or receive a conviction of a lesser crime, is due to their being a ‘gray zone’ in the justice system. When looking into the medical field, some patients are unable to receive treatments or have specific operations done, due to the case or other factors falling into the ‘gray zone’ where there is no defined outcome. Lots of people in a variety of fields of work have used and continue to say that there is a ‘gray zone’ somewhere in their field, where the answers are not binary and involve a much more complex system. This meaning and implication of the ‘gray zone’ may not always be as true to its original definition, but it still holds the same principle as it did in 1986 when Primo Levi, a famous Italian holocaust survivor, coined the term. Primo Levi used this term in his last book, The Drowned and the Saved, as the title of the second chapter. The ‘Gray Zone’ was thought of by Levi as word to mean that there exist a zone or area, where the answer is not yes or no, and actions are not simply good or evil, as the problems and actions in this zone require non binary solutions, and some uses of the word are proper expansions of its current meaning, while others are much more complicated.
To see what uses of the ‘gray zone’ are consistent with Levi’s original purpose for it, its use in The Drowned and the Saved must first be carefully examined. ‘The Grey Zone’ is the second chapter and the longest section of the book. In this chapter Levi brings about the idea of the human need to divide the social field into ‘us’ and ‘them’. He points out that these are two clearly distinct and identifiable groups, but also argues that binary thinking is inadequate in the complexity of life in concentration camps. He further explains this by stating “[t]he network of human relationships inside the Lagers was not simple, it could not be reduced to the two blocs of victims and persecutors (Levi 23).” This idea was brought about, because the Nazis were infamous for their attempts to turn victims into accomplices, as they set out to explore “the space which separates the victims from the persecutors (Levi 25).” The Nazis were able to accomplish this horrific task by separating the prisoners of the camp into categories, with each category or job receiving its own special perks. Most of theses perks though, came at the cost of condemning others to death which effectively created a sub feeling of ‘us’ and ‘them’ even in the ranks of the prisoners. This zone of humanity amongst the...