full name / name of organization:
An analysis of Elie Wiesel's Night
AP Literature Period 0
30 May 2012
Seeing the Light from the Darkness of Night
The Holocaust was one of the worst genocides to have ever taken place in the history of the world. The destruction of a huge community of Jews became a historical statistic that mankind can never forget. It was the destruction due to the bases of their religion. Eli Wiesel's Night is an important biographical-type novel about the life and hardships of Elie as a young boy who survives the concentration camps of Germany. Although his physical self may have lasted throughout the camps, somewhere Wiesel lost his spiritual soul. The purpose of this essay is to compare Wiesel's religious beliefs before and after the events of Night, and the religious symbols and references he uses throughout the novel. It is important to notice that the feelings and emotions Wiesel implements are the universal thoughts and feelings of a majority of Holocaust survivors.
Throughout the years, Night has become a world renowned title, and many have come to add their own opinions and twists to the story. Wiesel himself also continues his work on voicing the words of those who have died saying, “If there is a single theme that dominates all my writings, all my obsessions, it is that of memory-because I fear forgetfulness as much as hatred and death” (Responses Pg. 162). His own voice is the most important for the novel in that it reinforces his views. Writers around the world try to relate Wiesel and his great achievement of being the speaker for the silent. Naomi Seidman goes on to say, “The first book, Night, is Elie
Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply saddening autobiographical account of surviving the Holocaust while a young teenager. It is considered a classic of Holocaust literature, and was one of the first texts to be recognized as such” (Novels For Students Pg. 232). The Novels for Students book talks about how Wiesel's novels were born from the rage and emotion that he discovered from the Holocaust, and that his passion for Christ is still existent, but it is just a fraction of his childhood religion. In the novel, Is God Man's friend? Peter Lang explains that Wiesel is almost to the point of rejection of God after the events and lets anger finally come out through his words. His most famous quote on the subject, “never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times seated. Never shall I forget that smoke.” The instilled memory of his horrors will never go away, no matter how many novels he makes. The image he sees can never fade away.
Wiesel thought of God before and during the Holocaust as both the protector and punisher of the Jewish people. Whatever had happened before, he had faith that it was for their good, or one of God's greater plans. Either way, he would accept God's will without questioning. When rumors of the Nazis' crimes first reached some of the outlying Jewish towns, like Wiesel's city of Sighet, no one believed them. “The rabbis said: 'Nothing will happen to us, for God needs us' ” (Legends, 124). The town felt that God was with them and would protect them from anything as horrible as what these rumors suggested. They felt safe and secure in their faith saying, “And we, the Jews of Sighet, were waiting for better days, which would not be long in coming now” (Night, 5). As Gregor said his final good-byes to Gavriel in The Gates of the Forest, his faith was with him, despite what he had learned from Gavriel. He thought, “The sun was high in the sky, and it was growing warmer. All will be well; God sees to it that the harmony
may not be destroyed, all will be well; history moves on, and men, after all, weren't created just to slaughter one another” (Gates, 49). He had only to wait to learn how wrong he was. Even though things continued to get worse, as Jews were abused in the streets, and the friendly townsfolk started showing deep-seeded hatred of their Jewish neighbors, the Jews still had faith. Wiesel notes, “Our optimism remained unshakable. It was simply a question of holding out for a few days...Once again the God of Abraham would save his people, as always, at the last moment, when all seemed lost.” (Legends, 25). God did not save his people in time, and they were carted off to the concentration camps like cattle. People even began to blame themselves for the punishment Jews were given. Jean-Michel Boudreault writes,
''Others who did not feel guilty believed that God at least had a
good reason for punishing the Jews. They thought it must be a
test. 'God is testing us. He wants to find out whether we can dominate
our base instincts and kill the Satan within us. We have no right to despair.
And if he punishes us relentlessly, it's a sign that he loves us all the more.
Faith delayed the revolution that might have erupted in the camps.
The younger people felt it would be better to die fighting than to go
like lambs to the slaughter. They had knives and a strong will. But their
elders reminded them, 'You must never lose faith, even when the sword
hangs over your head. That's the teaching of our sages...' (Night, 29).
As long as the elders were willing to accept God's will, the younger
people were willing to respect their faith.”
The attitude that Wiesel portrays after surviving the Holocaust is that of anger and contempt that he felt for God's “abandonment.” Seen during the Holocaust, God appears cruel. He allowed the pain to continue for his own cruel purposes. This cruel God is the object of Wiesel's anger. The energy once spent in worship of God was transferred to accusing God, denouncing God, and demanding an explanation from God. Wiesel's writings call for a new start for theology, Jews were willing to accept all the pain and suffering that had been heaped on them and their families and friends, and forgive God; for he knows what he is doing. And even if he doesn't, he is still God, and it is not for to judge his acts, though they may question his motives. The result of all that has transpired is to leave Elie Wiesel still questioning. He knows that his relationship with God has changed significantly. He is still questioning, as himself and as his characters in his books. He declared that his whole reason for taking up philosophy initially is that “so many questions obsessed me. Where is God to be found? In suffering or in rebellion? When is a man most truly a man? When he submits or when he refuses? Where does suffering lead him? To purification or to bestiality? Philosophy, I hoped, would give me an answer” (Wiesel). The storm of emotion followed the paths of anger and despair, and finally ended with the acceptance that Elie Wiesel finds. God is not easy to figure out, and he never will be. “With all our knowledge, we cannot guess at his reasons for doing anything. I will never stop wondering what happened, and, more importantly, why, but I will sleep quietly, as long as when I wake I watch to see that there is not another Holocaust, and I pray to God that whatever the reasons for the first one, there never will be a second”(Wiesel)
During the first sections of Night, there are frequent mentions of religion and religious observance. Elie begins his story mentioning the Talmud and his Jewish studies and prayer
rituals. He is upset that the Nazis desecrate the Sabbath and his synagogue. By the end of Night, however, mentions of Jewish observance have almost vanished from the text. Most striking, Wiesel does not mention the Kaddish by name after his father’s death, and says only that there were no prayers at his grave. According to Justin Kestler, “By specifically avoiding Jewish terminology, Elie implies that religious observance has ceased to be a part of his life. Elie’s feelings about this loss are ambiguous: he has claimed that he has lost all faith in God, yet there is clearly regret and sadness in his tone when he discusses the lack of a religious memorial for his father.”Although Elie’s explicit mentions of religion vanish, religious metaphor holds Night’s entire narrative structure together. Throughout the novel Wiesel indirectly refers to biblical passages, Psalm 150, for example, when Elie discusses his loss of faith and Jewish tradition. The Nazis’ selections on Yom Kippur of which prisoners will die—a cruel version of the Jewish belief that God selects who will live and who will die during the Days of Awe). Though Wiesel claims that religion and faith are no longer part of his life, both nevertheless form the solid base for his entire story.
Throughout the historical events of World War II, Night is a memoir that help the world not to forget what happened to the innocents. Eli Wiesel Hes become the one voice, for the nine million victims of the holocaust. The human race cannot afford to forget about something so horrible, and the fact that it was caused by humans themselves. His biography details the religious turn that many Jews have experienced from being a devout follower of God, to a confused spiteful human being who continues to question belief in God.