Wiesel depicts his experiences in the Holocaust through the eyes of Eliezer who conveys the terrors of what he endured and saw. Readers will likely note reoccurring themes of faith, silence, and inhumanity, as well as symbols that include corpses, fire, and night.
Throughout the novel, Elie is forced to question his faith in God. When God does not step in and stop the horrors around him, Elie has to consider that his faith may have been wrong all along. He learned that God demands sacrifice but is, in the end, compassionate and loving, that’s far from what he learned firsthand during his experiences in the novel, Night. Despite the fact that Eliezer says he’s lost his faith several times, Wiesel includes religious allusions and figurative language that suggest that that’s not completely true. By the end of the novel, while his understanding of the world and religion has shifted, he’s not completely without faith.
This is one of the primary themes in the novel, and one that can be found in Wiesel’s other works as well as lectures. Elie is constantly bothered by the silence of God and the silence of other men and women in Europe throughout the novel.
There are numerous examples of indifference throughout the novel. Elie notes the village’s indifferent reaction when Moishe returns with news of what he’s seen, the German people’s ability to ignore what’s going on right in front of their faces, and of course, the Nazi soldier’s indifference to the lives they were destroying. One of the most telling scenes comes towards the end of the novel when the prisoners are running toward Gleiwitz and are being shot down by guards if they paused for even a moment.
Indifference and silence go hand in hand with inhumanity in Night. It’s impossible to read this novel and not walk away feeling horrified by the inhuman practices promoted and carried out by the Nazi regime. Eliezer has trouble making sense of the world after seeing some of the terrible things that happened inside and outside the camps. One such scene comes after he’s arrived with his father and they walk past a pit in which S.S. soldiers are burning the bodies of children.
Additionally, the prisoner on prisoner violence and hate is another aspect of the inhuman environment Eliezer had to endure. The men in his camps were so desperate they turned on one another, even sons on fathers. This is seen quite clearly at the end of the novel when the prisoners beat Eliezer’s father and effectively end his life.
Analysis of Key Moments in Night
- Elie studies with Moishe the Beadle. Moishe is expelled from Sighet.
- Moishe returns and tells everyone what he saw and experienced.
- German soldiers come to Sighet and place restrictions of Jews living there.
- Eliezer and his family are moved into a ghetto
- Eliezer and his family are transported to Birkenau on cattle cars.
- Elie is separated from his mother and sisters.
- The men are taken to Auschwitz.
- Elie is given number r A-7713.
- Everyone goes to Buna.
- Elie is beaten and has his gold crown removed.
- Elie watches a young boy executed.
- Elie’s father barely passes inspection.
- The death march begins from Buna to an abandoned village and then Gleiwitz.
- Everyone gets on a train to Buchenwald and very few survive the journey.
- Elie’s father dies of dysentery and a beating from the other men.
- Elie is liberated from the camp.
Style, Tone, and Figurative Language in Night
Throughout Night, Wiesel writes about Elie’s experiences in a detached tone. He uses short sentences and clear words to report on what Elie saw and what he felt. Wiesel was trying to put his experiences into words, in a way that accurately represented them but allowed him to keep some distance from the character of Eliezer. The text is sparse, with very few complex passages or examples of figurative language. Elie Wiesel chose to speak directly to the reader in a way that could not be misunderstood.
Often, Wiesel does take a step back from a terrible scene, talking around it rather than directly describing it. For example, when he speaks about an S.S. guard shooting a prisoner.
The tone in the novel is serious throughout. There are no light or happy moments. Even when the novel concludes and the camp has been liberated, Elie concludes the novel with a striking scene of loss and sorrow with Eliezer standing in front of a mirror.
Analysis of Symbols in Night
One of the most obvious and important symbols in the novel is night. By naming the novel “night” and pushing themes of religious doubt, it’s important to consider Genesis and the passages regarding God’s creation of the earth. First, the Bile says, there was “darkness upon the face of the deep.” It’s this darkness, with the absence of God, that Eliezer lives through. Light is absent from some of the most important scenes in the novel, such as when Eliezer’s father is talking to him about the deportation of the Jews and when they arrive at Birkenau/Auschwitz.
Fire is a symbol of death and destruction in Night. It is used by the Nazis to destroy evidence of their genocide. It first appears in a horrifying passage when Madame Schächter cries out “Fire! Look at the flames! Flames everywhere,” when the train arrives in Birkenau. When the train pulls in, Eliezer can smell burning flesh immediately. This is something that haunts the rest of the novel. The fire is an ever-present reminder of the deaths waiting for those able to escape the initial threat of the crematorium.
Corpses appear throughout the novel, bringing into the light the true extent of the horrors the Nazi regime perpetrated on the Jewish people. Eliezer is forced to witness deaths and sees piles of bodies. The image of a corpse also appears at the end of the novel when Eliezer looks at himself in the mirror and thinks that he looks more than a corpse than he does a living person. It’s a symbol for the death of who he was, the strength of his faith, and the loss of the 11 million who did in the Holocaust.