The Life of Galileo


Bertolt Brecht

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Themes and Colors
Progress vs. Tradition Theme Icon
Persecution Theme Icon
Ideas as Infection Theme Icon
Work vs. Passion Theme Icon
Greatness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Life of Galileo, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Progress vs. Tradition

Both Brecht and Galileo lived in societies that were characterized by the desire to do things differently than they’d been done in the past. In Galileo’s time, science introduced knowledge and ideas that were at odds with centuries of religious teachings about the nature of the world. In Brecht’s day, this desire for change was political. People were tired of wars and the political systems that caused them: they wanted change and some believed that…

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Modern readers are accustomed to the rigors of free scientific debate, which allows for a variety of viewpoints, so long as data exist to reinforce one’s positions. Even in more esoteric worlds like philosophy and politics, few arguments are taboo as long as they are presented both with good intent and reason. Such freedoms, though, are a modern victory—sometimes a very modern one. In Brecht’s day, citizens of the United States faced severe repercussions, including…

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Ideas as Infection

The deadly bubonic plague ripped through Italy during Galileo’s life, and in Brecht’s time, hundreds of years later, an influenza outbreak gripped the entire world. Both Galileo and Brecht’s societies went to great (and sometimes inhumane) lengths to stop disease from spreading, often by segregating the sick from the healthy, a method that had limited success. Not surprisingly, then, the idea of plague looms large in Life of Galileo, and it becomes a…

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Work vs. Passion

Brecht’s Galileo is a genius who wants nothing more than to keep his eyes firmly trained on the night sky, looking for answers to large-scale questions about existence and thinking about the way the universe works. He sees this labor as his true calling. Yet, as astronomy isn’t a well-paid profession in Galileo’s time, he finds himself constantly torn between his passion and the banal requirements of day-to-day life, like making money to pay for…

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The “Great Man” theory of historical progress, which was developed in the nineteenth century, argues that history is shaped not by the cumulative lives of everyday people, but by a handful of individuals (who, despite the name, need not be men). According to this theory, such people are possessed of greater thoughts and are capable of greater deeds than their peers, and they move humanity forward in a way of which they alone are capable…

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