Introduction of Night
The Night written by Elie Wiesel was published in 1960, creating ripples in the literary world. It presents a realistic picture of the Auschwitz concentration camps set up by the Nazis. However, later, its English translation made Elie Wiesel a household name in highlighting the Nazi atrocities committed during the Holocaust against the Jewish people disregard their age and gender. Sprawling over more than 100 pages, this book presents the autobiography of Wiesel about his abhorrent expression of apathy, death of God, and numbness of humanity. The novel concludes that “here there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends” and “Everyone lives and dies for himself alone.”
Summary of Night
Night records the happenings when Elie Wiesel was a Jewish teenager Eliezer Wiesel. He starts the story from Sighet, the Hungarian town, where his daily routine comprises reading the Torah and learning the Kaballah (Jewish Mysticism)from Moishe the Beadle who also taught him how to become closer to God and was extremely religious. However, when his popular teacher, returns after saving his life from the camp, unfolding the grotesque nature of butchering Jews by the Nazis. Moishe goes from door to door asking people not to give him money or show any pity instead just listen to him. Yet, nobody pays attention to the horrifying tales narrated by Moishe, taking him a mad person, who also declares the rule of madness.
Wiesel states that despite the arrival of these tales of butchery and bloodshed, the Jews in Sighet demonstrate optimism that the Nazis would not be able to reach this far corner but in 1944 their optimism starts fading away when the Hungarian police appear and forced the Jews to vacate their houses and live in ghettos. Soon they are packed in cattle cars to take them to Birkenau and Auschwitz with the promise to let them work in the brick factories. Most of the families get separated during this long journey. Elie is also separated from his sisters and mother but he stays with his father Chlomo at Birkenau. The first step to send a Jew to concentration chambers comprises ‘selections’ of the working and healthy Jews. However, the duo proves lucky and stays together. Later, they see a truckload of children being thrown in the furnaces.
In the beginning everyone in the camp, the fathers and sons tried to stay close to each other. took good care of their fathers in spite of the harsh conditions because they are the only family they had. But as the story progressed it became impossible for one to survive. The sons started abusing and abandoning their fathers.
The Nazis then send them to work after striping and giving them a heavy beating. When they reach Buna to work in Electrical fittings factory, Elie gets separated from his father who cries and moans, seeing his death taking hold of him, though, he expresses little remorse under these inhuman conditions which are too harrowing to be described in words. Soon his supervisor comes to know about Elie’s golden teeth which he extracts with a plier disregard of pain and trouble to him.
The conditions in the camp soon turn worse, making the prisoners suffer from the extremely cold wind, malnutrition, and dingy living conditions. They see their fellows going to gallows and gas chambers on daily basis and fight for sleeping space and pieces of crumbs, injuring and mutilating each other. Personal survival becomes a priority of every walking soul in that Elie sees all this with rapt attention and keen observation, believing that God is dead, or else He would have responded to their pleas.
During this time, Chlomo was taken off from the list of abler men and had to face the furnace. Somehow he passes the second physical examination and was let to live. After a while, the situation becomes a bit better when Elie visits the infirmary for his injured father Where the news breaks in that the Russians are liberating and the Germans decided to flee to Gliewitz along with the inmates on a death march. They were made to run forty-two miles in the snow. While resting after marching over forty miles, Rabbi Eliahou asks everyone about his son, who had abandoned his father because of he was limping and had to survive for his own life. By this time Elie has almost completely lost his faith in God. Albeit he finds himself praying, asking God to give him strength never to do what the Rabbi’s son has done. Out of 100 that was set out only twelve survive.
They reach Buchenwald’s concentration where Chlomo dies of dysentery missing his freedom by three months. The story concludes when he was liberated by Americans he looks into the mirror for the first time and what he sees is the reflection of a dead corpse staring back at him.
Major Themes in Night
- Holocaust: Cruelty in the Holocaust is at the top in Night by Elie as he recounts the horror-filled experience of his life after having gone through the torture of the Holocaust at Birkenau, Buna, and Auschwitz with his father who dies in the final episode when the freedom is just a step away. Having taken from Sighet, Elie parts with his family, seeing his mother and younger sister, Tzipora, going to another camp in which they perish. Although Madam Schachter predicts it through her occasional hysteric cries of fire, yet the Jews hide their head in the sand like ostriches and do not react. Instead, they resign to their fates and perish in the flames of hatred as well as fire. Elie’s story highlights the numbness that plays havoc with human feelings, making him feel at loss to understand the working of God and God’s teachings.
- Humanity: Night shows the theme of humanity through the narrative of Elie in that although he is trapped in the concentration camps with his father, he has lost the nerves to feel sympathy with his father and empathy with other inmates. He sees the German SS men mercilessly killing the Jews, flinging their children into the pits of fire, and butchering the old. Still, he feels nothing, thinking that such a situation demands that you do not think about others. When he sees Rabbi’s son leaving his father and he berating his father in his heart, he feels it strongly that every person lives for themselves.
- Faith: Night also breaks the narratives of beliefs while strengthening them. When Elie comes to know that everybody is praying to God, yet the cruelty, torture, and dance of death is going on, he loses his faith in God and openly says that man is here to stay as a strength rather than submitting to God’s will.
- Family: Although familial relationships are the bedrock of an individual’s personality, Elie states that when such trials happen, people often leave families and save their own skin. The same is his case that he loses faith in relations when he sees his father mercilessly beaten, yet he sees that had his father acted differently, he would have avoided Idek, the merciless Gestapo soldier. Despite his prayers the time comes and passes, leaving him emotionless, inhuman, and unkind.
- Silence: The theme of silence appears from the very first page of Night when Elie sees that Moishe and Schachter do everything to make the Jews rise up and defend themselves, but they stay silent to their pleas, wailings, and cries. When the Hungarian police round them up, they silently obey them and even silently suffer in Auschwitz. This deafening silence makes Elie question the very existence of God, transforming him into an emotionless person.
- Faith in God: Having a faith in the sense of religion is one thing, but having strong faith in God is another thing that has been broken during Auschwitz as Elie sees a child being killed in front of him despite having all of them prayed to God for his life. He questions the existence of God and leaves all of them, including his father to be battered by Idek.
- Loyalty to Relations: Night shows loyalty not only to relations but also to the family through the story of Elie. When his father is receiving a backlash from Idek, Elie merely taunts his father in his heart why he has not managed to save himself. He also consoles his relative who has come to ask him about his family, saying that he has seen his kids despite his ignorance about them. Yet, he saves himself by the end after losing his father and family.
- Insight into Human Nature: The book also gives insight into human nature as to how much human being is able to fall down into barbarism and animalism without feeling pain for others. Even the real son avoids his father after seeing him thrashed which in normal circumstances could have been unthinkable. The people were watching their children thrown into the flames without any move.
- Value of Freedom: Night shows the value of freedom from the character of Elie who sees that when he is free from that oppression at Buna and Birkenau, he finds that freedom is a great virtue as well as a blessing of God. He values it after finding his brother and sister alive.
Major Characters in Night
- Eliezer Wiesel: Elie is the narrator and protagonist of the novel. He has fictionalized his own feelings and his account to show that the Holocaust has been a cruel reality of the 20th century and that the Nazis crossed all boundaries of inhumanity in treating the Jews worse than animals and did everything in their power to exterminate them. He learns three important lessons during this entire ordeal; life is a tale of the survival of the fittest, God has his own plans for the religious-minded people, and that everybody lives for himself.
- Chlomo Wiesel: Chlomo Wiesel’s significance in ‘Night’ lies in his relationship with the narrator in that he is his honorable and loving father who goes through this ordeal to show his son that he can still show him love. When he is slapped, he smiles at Elie, saying that it was nothing. Chlomo’s patience, stamina, and courage to tolerate the worst set an example before the young son that he feels ashamed of himself. He succumbs to his final ordeal at Glietwitz when dysentery takes its toll on him.
- Moishe the Beadle: The character of Moishe the Beadle is very important. He appears as the mentor for Elie when he commits himself to teach Kabbalah mystic techniques. Next, he warns all the Jews about their likely extermination but a man of no import, people turn a deaf ear to his premonitions and pay with their lives later.
- Madame Schaechter: The importance of Madame Schachter’s character is prominent as well. She warns the Jews and continues to warn them about the fire that is going to engulf them. They do not pay heed to her and ignore her as they ignore Moishe. She continues crying fire in a hysterical fashion until she ends her life at Auschwitz.
- Dr. Mengele: The significance of Dr. Mengele’s lies represents the brutality of the SS, a model of barbarism and cruelty. When he peeps through his monocle, it seems that he has devoured coldness to cause human suffering. He demonstrates his skill in the selection of the Jews to send them to crematoria or the working blocks.
- Young Pipel: Belonging to the Jewish community, this young man was from Oberkapo. He sabotages the power plant at Buna and is arrested after the crime. His significance lies in that he becomes a symbol of rebellion and subsequent reticence in the face of torture. His sentence impacts the whole camp.
- Meir Katz: Elie’s friend, Katz meets him at Buna and works with him in pruning the local garden. He utilizes the vegetable garden and becomes quite healthy yet he becomes the fodder of barbarism by the end.
- Martha: Martha is a non-Jew character, and yet she offers her master to live in safety in her village but the family declines that offer and pays the price for that rejection.
- Stein of Antwerp: As a distant relative, he tests Elie in the camp by asking him to identify him and consoles them as Elie consoles him about his family. He is soon lost in the camp.
- Juliek: Juliek teaches other Jews how to live under such inhuman conditions. He plays music to keep their spirits high, in spite of knowing that they are at the death door.
Writing Style of Night
Despite being involved in that barbarism, inhumanity, and wholesale death, Elie keeps himself fit to write his story in such a seductive style and innocent language. However, he seems detached from the narration involved and yet keeps the stiff-upper-lip attitude toward the details he describes. The tone stays indifferent that helps him create sentences short and direct but keeps the language very easy and sharp. Lacking additions and flowery descriptions, this language, if written in a matter-of-fact tone, proves highly effective in the long run. The indifferently tragic and somber mood of the novel ends in making readers stand up and do soul searching.
Analysis of Literary Devices in Night
- Action: The main action of the novel comprises Elie Wiesel’s arrest, arrival at Birkenau, Buna, and Auschwitz, and then release when the Russian forces liberate Auschwitz. The rising action occurs when he sees his father thrashed but does not react. The falling action occurs when the Russian forces attack and the SS men flee for their lives, leaving the Jews behind in the camps.
- Anaphora: Night shows the use of anaphora. For example,
i. Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even
were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.
The sentence shows the repetitious use of “I forget” which becomes an anaphoric phrase.
- Antagonist: Night shows the Nazis and the German soldiers as the main antagonists on account of their worst genocide of the Jews during the previous century.
- Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel.
i. Saturday, the day of rest, was the day chosen for our expulsion. (p.32)
ii. At dawn, we were in the street, ready to leave. This time, there were no Hungarian police. It had been agreed that the Jewish Council would handle everything by itself. (32)
iii. The train stopped in Kaschau, a small town on the Czechoslovakian border. We realized then that we were not staying in Hungary. Our eyes opened. Too late. (34)
iv. He complained that they would not let him play Beethoven; Jews were not allowed to play German music. Hans, the young man from Berlin, was full
of wit. The foreman was a Pole: Franek, a former student in Warsaw. (p. 55)
The first one is a Biblical allusion, while the rest are geographical and personal illusions such as the name of countries and personalities.
- Conflict: The are two types of conflicts in the novel. The first one is the external conflict that is going on between two races; the German and the Jews and the second is the mental conflict that is going on in the mind of Elie about assisting his father during this chaos.
- Characters: Night presents both static as well as dynamic characters. The young boy, Elie Wiesel, is a dynamic character as he faces a huge transformation during his growth from an innocent soul to a numb youth. However, the rest of the characters do not see any change in their behavior, as they are static characters such as Idek, his father, Juliek, and his mother.
- Climax: The climax takes place when the concentration camps finally get vacated after the Russian forces occupy it and the German forces escape.
- Foreshadowing: The novel shows the following examples of foreshadowing:
i. Man comes closer to God through the questions he asks Him, he liked to
say. Therein lies true dialogue. Man asks and God replies. But we don’t
understand His replies. We cannot understand them. Because they dwell in
the depths of our souls and remain there until we die. The real answers,
Eliezer, you will find only within yourself. (19)
ii. Little by little life returned to “normal.” The barbed wire that encircled us
like a wall did not fill us with real fear. In fact, we felt this was not a bad
thing; we were entirely among ourselves. A small Jewish republic … A
Jewish Council was appointed, as well as a Jewish police force, a welfare
agency, a labor committee, a health agency—a whole governmental
iii. I watched other hangings. I never saw a single victim weep. These withered bodies had long forgotten the bitter taste of tears. (27)
These quotes from Night foreshadow the coming events.
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,
i. Physically, he was as awkward as a clown. His waiflike shyness made
people smile. As for me, I liked his wide, dreamy eyes, gazing off into the
ii. Hundreds of eyes were watching his every move. Hundreds of men were
crawling with him, scraping their bodies with his on the stones. All hearts
trembled, but mostly with envy. He was the one who had dared. (62)
iii. Winter had arrived. The days became short and the nights almost unbearable. From the first hours of dawn, a glacial wind lashed us like a whip. We were handed winter clothing: striped shirts that were a bit heavier. (75)
These examples show the use of different images, showing people and weather in different ways.
- Metaphor: Night also shows good use of various metaphors. For example,
i. I was nothing but ashes now, but I felt myself to be stronger than this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long. In the midst of these men assembled for prayer, I felt like an observer, a stranger. (16)
ii. The news spread through Sighet like wildfire. Soon that was all people
talked about. But not for long. Optimism soon revived: The Germans will
not come this far. (22)
iii. Suddenly, the silence became more oppressive. An SS officer had come in and, with him, the smell of the Angel of Death. (46)
These are examples of metaphors, showing different things compared directly such as the person with ashes, the news with fire, and silence with a cruel person.
- Mood: The novel shows a general mood in the beginning but becomes very serious and tragic when it reaches its end.
- Motif: Most important motifs of the novel are Elie’s struggle with his faith, silence, inhumanity, relations between father and son, and fire.
- Narrator: The novel is narrated by a first-person narrator, Elie, who is also the author.
- Personification: The novel shows the use of personifications. For example,
i. The shadows around me roused themselves as if from a deep sleep and left silently in every direction. (26)
ii. It was as though madness has infected us all. (36)
iii. The wind of revolt died down. (40)
iv. A barrel of foul-smelling liquid stood by the door. (44)
These examples show as if shadows, madness, wind, and the barrel have a life of their own.
- Protagonist: Elie Wiesel is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his narrative of their life at Sighet and then transportation to Birkenau, Auschwitz, and Buna.
- Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places. For example,
i. I stood petrified. What had happened to me? My father had just been struck, in front of me, and I had not even blinked. I had watched and kept silent. Only yesterday, I would have dug my nails into this criminal’s flesh. Had I changed that much? So fast? (46)
ii. “You old loafer!” he started yelling. “Is this what you call working?” (58)
iii. “What? My ration of bread so that you can have my crown?”
“What would you like? That I break your teeth by smashing your face?” (60)
These examples show the use of rhetorical questions posed by different characters not to elicit answers but to stress upon the underlined idea.
- Setting: The setting of the novel spreads from Sighet in former Serbia to Birkenau and Auschwitz and finally to Buchenwald in Poland.
- Symbols: The novel shows the symbols of night, fire, flames, and corpses.
- Simile: The novel shows brilliant use of various similes. For example,
i. I believe it important to emphasize how strongly I feel that books, just like people, have a destiny. Some invite sorrow, others joy, some both. (10)
ii. The news spread through Sighet like wildfire. Soon that was all people talked about. But not for long. (22)
iii. The barbed wire that encircled us like a wall did not fill us with real fear. (24)
iv. By eight o’clock in the morning, weariness had settled into our veins, our limbs, our brains, like molten lead. (27)
v. They passed me by, like beaten dogs, with never a glance in my direction. They must have envied me. (29)
vi. One day when Idek was venting his fury, I happened to cross his path. He
threw himself on me like a wild beast, beating me in the chest, on my head,
throwing me to the ground and picking me up again. (57)
vii. Death enveloped me, it suffocated me. It stuck to me like glue. I felt I could touch it. (83)
These are similes as the use of the word “like” shows the comparison between different things.
- Irony: The novel shows various examples of irony. For example,
The man in charge of our wagon called out to a German officer strolling down the platform, asking him to have the sick woman moved to a hospital car. “Patience,” the German replied, “patience. She’ll be taken there soon.” (37)
ii. “Where is merciful God, where is He?” someone behind me was asking.
At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over.
Total silence in the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting. (66)
Both of these examples show that the implied meanings of these lines are different from their actual meanings.