Schindler's List

Schindler's List Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Analyze the symbolic role that children play in the film.

    Children are used throughout the film to indicate family loyalty, despite horrific circumstances. During the liquidation of the ghetto, there are many children/parent pairs featured. One father tries to stop a soldier from shooting his son as he runs away, giving up his own life. Children are also used to symbolize the hopelessness of the Jews' situation. A notable example of this is the little girl in the red coat. Despite her efforts to resist and hide, and despite the red coat that identifies her as special, she ends up dead and piled up with the other victims, nameless and unimportant.

  2. 2

    Describe Oskar Schindler's heroism.

    Schindler is a paradoxical hero. He is a member of the Nazi party, a war profiteer, and a greedy businessman. His original intent is not to save the lives of a thousand Jews, but to make a profit from their situation. The film documents his progression from antihero to hero. It also documents his switch from a hero who pretends he does not know what he is doing to a hero who embraces his actions.

  3. 3

    Examine the similarities and differences between Oskar Schindler and Amon Goeth.

    The first one-on-one conversation between Schindler and Goeth is a telling one. The men can connect on several levels. Goeth likes Schindler because, like Goeth, Schindler is greedy and egotistic. Goeth tells him that he knows how he feels. From this conversation on, however, the film works to show the growing differences between the two men. Two notable incidents that mark discrepancies between them are the conversation about power and the moment when Schindler sprays the train to Auschwitz with water. Goeth's idea of power rests on fear while Schindler's rests on respect and awe. Goeth's interpretation of the water spraying is that it is inspired by cruelty; he does not immediately realize that Schindler does it out of compassion.

  4. 4

    What role does color play in the film?

    There are several instances in the film in which Spielberg includes color: at the very beginning, at the very end, and on the little girl with the red coat. The use of color at the beginning and end of the film helps frame it as a docu-drama. First, it draws a distinction between present-day color film and past black and white film, thereby creating a distinction between the past and the present. At the end of the film, the actors and the actual survivors walk by Schindler's grave and place stones on it. This sudden movement to the present, to color, and to nonfiction gives the rest of the film a distinctly realistic appearance. The little girl in the red coat shows the use of color in a different way. Spielberg uses color with her to draw the viewer's attention to a person about whom we know nothing. But because of her special red coat, we root for her to succeed. She symbolizes youth and vibrancy. The horror of the pile of burning bodies is enhanced by the image of the soldiers carrying a girl in a red coat to the pile, for she is not just another corpse.

  5. 5

    Why does Spielberg include the subplot about Schindler's romantic life?

    The subplot of Schindler's romantic life serves both to convey Schindler's move toward virtue and to promote a certain idea of morality. Schindler returns to his wife and concludes his affairs at the same time that he produces the list and opens the factory in Moravia. His virtue enters all aspects of his life, from the large scale of saving a thousand lives to the small scale of his own life.

  6. 6

    Examine the relationship between Oskar Schindler and Itzhak Stern.

    Stern acts as Schindler's conscience. When Schindler and Stern's relationship is new and unfriendly, Schindler is at his least virtuous as a character. As the pair gets to know each other better, Schindler begins working to save people, rather than just focusing on earning money. Stern is the one who presents the ring to Schindler at the end of the film. This symbolizes a passing on of Stern's moral goodness to Schindler.

  7. 7

    Analyze the use of trains in the film.

    Trains were integral to the Nazi party's movement of Jews during World War II. In the film, they are used to bring workers to concentration camps. For the most part, we see the trains bringing Jews to Auschwitz. In this way, they symbolize a movement toward death. Thus, the viewer is not entirely surprised when the train carrying the women on Schindler's list arrives in Auschwitz instead of Zwittau-Brinnlitz. It only seems appropriate that this mode of transportation should lead to tragedy. At the end of the film, the Jewish workers of Zwittau-Brinnlitz wake up on top of train tracks. Because this occurs at the same time as their liberation, it symbolizes a conquering of the trains as weapons of death.

  8. 8

    Spielberg wished to make the movie in a documentary style. How does he achieve this?

    Spielberg uses several cinematic techniques to imply a documentary style, including black and white film and handheld cameras. By including multiple Jewish characters, he provides varied perspectives in the same way a documentary would. By framing the film with color scenes set in the present, he makes a clear distinction between the world of the story and the world of the present.

  9. 9

    Explore the concept of power in the film.

    Goeth and Schindler's discussion of power on Goeth's balcony is particularly revealing. There are two different ideas of power identified in this conversation: power from fear and power from respect. Both of these power archetypes are played out throughout the film. Ultimately, however, as Schindler ends up alive and a legend and Goeth ends up executed, it is clear that Spielberg wishes to promote power from respect as the most important kind.

  10. 10

    Many critics have noted that Schindler's List is more popular than anything else written or filmed about the Holocaust. Why do you think this is?

    First and foremost, it is made by Steven Spielberg, the most commercially successful director in history. His name alone is enough to bring plenty of attention to the film. Besides that, there are many aspects of this film that make it more accessible than other Holocaust works. Though it is based on a true story, it is fictionalized, making it easier to swallow than a pure account of the Holocaust and its horrors. It has an uplifting ending, with good winning over evil. It confirms the idea that one person can make a difference. Finally, its focus on one group of people provides a scope that is easily comprehended. Viewers do not have to take in the total horror of the Holocaust; they only have to follow one group of people at one work camp.