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Published: Tuesday 29th of October 2013
The novel “Night” by Elie Wiesel is an autobiographical narrative following the writer’s own experience with his father in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, two of the most notorious Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. This story is short, just over 100 pages in length, but serves as a captivating piece of highly renowned literature. Fortunately, Wiesel survived the holocaust but unfortunately, his father did not.
During that novel the main narrator Eliezer undergoes a series of life-changing discoveries, his most prominent being that he renounces his faith in God. Another is a reversal of the father-son relationship, whereby he becomes disgusted with himself for wanting his father to stop depending on him and being a dead weight. In this novel, Elie obviously needs to fend for himself just like every other person in a concentration camp and his father is, unfortunately, a huge burden on him and holds him back. Elie longs to be with his father, yet his relationship changes as he becomes his caregiver, watching him decline and deteriorate rapidly into helplessness.
The novel outlines truly barbaric ways of concentration camps and how humanity breaks down in horrific and seemingly unimaginable ways. Wiesel intended his short novel to remind future generations of the horrific times of the holocaust, hoping for history to not repeat itself in future. As an autobiographical novel, this leads a reader to the most intimate thoughts and soliloquies, offering a precise representation of how things were. Sincerity of this message and eyewitness accounts hold true and make one feel that they are within the others in the concentration camps.
Read the book and you’ll notice that Elie’s life has been completely changed by what he witnessed during the Holocaust. The writer’s faith is being put into question throughout his novel as he becomes increasingly unsure of his faith as the novel progresses. Throughout this novel, Elie witnesses many key tragic events that put his faith into question, such as being forced to watch young children’s bodies’ burn slowly to death or when he witnesses a young boy exploit his father for food to the point that the boy’s father dies. Elie’s account of malnourishment in camps is impeccable and harrowing to read – there are even descriptions of people killing others in order to sustain themselves to live on. It becomes a dog-eat-dog world as soon as prisoners enter the concentration camps. This puts everything into perspective for Elie, his faith weakening and ultimately him reconsidering his belief in God and Judaism. Elie ponders deep ethical questions, such as how can God allow a man to kill another man? How can God let society evolve to take such a brutal turn for the worse? If there is a loving God who wants the best for everyone, why has he let so many people suffering needlessly? These are all questions that ultimately a reader ponders too.
It comes as no surprise that Elie’s father dies within the novel, however, when Elie is confronted with this stark reality, he does not weep. Wiesel has made a point that death has become so commonplace for him and has become so accustomed to people dying that it has no bearing on him whatsoever. Elie wonders why so many innocent lives are taken from the world, yet ends up not being phased when they are taken away. This further leads Elie to question God’s purpose and whether he exists. In the same way that Elie has become unfazed by death, the author illustrates how guards in camps have also become unfazed by death as they inflict suffering that leads to countless deaths of innocent people. It is as if every person in this novel has embraced death in some way or another, with obvious worse outcomes for some than others.
Novel outlines the complete lack of moral code as well a the total disregard for ethics, both from guards and even from prisoner’s points of viewing themselves. It is obvious that guards are engaging in highly unethical behavior throughout this book – guards use cruel force on prisoners, subject prisoners to random beatings and treat them with the least dignity and respect imaginable. Some of the prisoners are even beaten until they lose consciousness as punishment for things that shouldn’t even be punishable. It is Elie’s own father that succumbs to these beatings. Unfortunately, this leads to the end of his father’s life as he is beaten in his bed to his death by guards. Elie doesn’t speak up for fear of being beaten himself. In other cases, guards are abusing prisoners Hazel by hanging children – the author questions how God allows such things to happen in his world.
A lot of the cruel behavior from guards puts Elie’s faith further into question as he asks why their divine intervention is not happening. Elie wonders that if there is God, why is he not intervening at the very moment when he would need to when guards are carrying out the most savage and cruel actions? Why is God not trying to remove suffering first-hand when his divine intervention is most needed? This novel has an overwhelmingly large effect on its audience – a reader, certainly, ponders questions of these sorts along with the writer.
Other than the predominant theme losing religious faith, Elie draws upon a number of other themes within the book, such as one of Family. The novel begins with prisoners desperately clutching onto family members as long as they can because they love them and this is the only thing that keeps them going throughout this horrible time; however this changes throughout the novel. As the novel progresses, the suffering of prisoners intensifies, leading to prisoners wanting to let go of their family for the sake of survival. Family members are seen by some as a burden, especially in Elie’s case who sees his father, one who is struggling to survive and one who is laden with dysentery and disease, as an unfortunate liability.
The theme of deception runs deep throughout this novel. Self-deception serves as a way of bringing false hope and boosting morale for many of these prisoners. This often has unfortunate consequences for instance when groups of prisoners deceive themselves into thinking that they aren’t actually in real danger amongst the Nazis and so don’t escape from Sighet when there is a chance to do so. People deceive each other for purposes of bringing false hope, for instance, Elie and his father convincing themselves that Elie’s mother and sister are alive. This kind of false hope is even provided to Elie’s cousin Stein, reassuring him that his family and children are all doing ok.
Human identity changes throughout the novel and this is a theme that Weisel brings to the center of reader’s attention. At the beginning of this novel, Elie is just a young innocent child and is a divorced member of the Jewish Faith; however, this identity is very quickly stripped from him as he enters the concentration camp environment. Not only is Elie’s hair shaved and his innocence stripped, he is no longer an innocent child but instead becomes prisoner just like everybody else. Elie obviously loses his Jewish identity as he questions faith, but his physical identity also changes it as he transforms into a hungry, emaciated human being who cannot even recognize himself in a mirror. The reader wonders about both the physical and spiritual identities that characters in this novel have and how they change throughout. Which is worse, the change of spiritual identity or physical identity? What becomes of Elie’s identity when he leaves this horrible environment?
Lastly, Wiesel takes a reader on a journey of confining the Jewish people. This step-by-step process of confinement is orderly and true; removing the Jews from their homes, enclosing them in ghettos, confining them to transport, then eventually imprisoning them within concentration camps. There is no liberation in this confinement for the Jewish community, only darkness, and suffering. The end of the novel, American soldiers finally liberate the Jewish people and a theme of confinement takes a turn in the opposite direction, many Jews becoming de-confined.
Wiesel was only 15 years old when he was sent to a concentration camp, but so many years later these memories and accounts hold a place in hearts of many people all over the world. This novel highlights brutality and moral indifference that can come from such intense political regimes such as the Nazi regime. Descriptions in this novel are also striking at times that it leaves a reader gasping for breath and feeling physically sick, but this is exactly why this novel has been embraced by so many. The times described are not times that should be dressed up in any way so Wiesel and many others should describe them with honesty giving the most accurate information possible so that history does not repeat itself in the future – this novel does just that.