Essay On The Novel Night
In a symposium published in Judaism (March 26, 1967), Wiesel declared, “In the beginning there was the Holocaust. We must therefore start over again.” Most commentators would agree with Graham Walker’s description, in his book Elie Wiesel: A Challenge to Theology (1987), of the Holocaust as an event of “ontological status which has disrupted both human history and the life story of God.” Night is one of only a few books whose authors attempt to understand the Holocaust. Wiesel’s international status as the winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, as a formidable literary figure, and as one of the leading voices speaking for the Holocaust survivors as well as the victims makes this work all the more compelling. His decision to focus on the Holocaust’s significance for altering the human understanding of man’s relationship to God indicates that Wiesel’s views, as expressed in Night and in virtually every work of his since, reflect the central difficulties involved in the painful theological revisions that have occurred in both Jewish and Christian realms since 1945.
It is important to realize, however, that Night is not an example of the “death of God theology.” At the Brandeis-Bardin Institute (January 22, 1978), Wiesel claimed that “the Covenant was broken. I had to tell God of my anger. I still do so.” God is not dead for Wiesel; in fact, it is the recognition of a God that permits the monologue recorded in Night. Wiesel can protest vehemently to God about the state of the creation precisely because God the Creator exists.
Paradoxically, Wiesel also employs silence within this monologue. While Wiesel believes that to remain silent about the Holocaust is to betray its victims, he also knows that presuming to talk about the experience of the Holocaust is a betrayal of another kind. His words are thus chosen with extreme care, but also with a great regard for the silence between the words. In an interview with Harry James Cargas in U.S. Catholic (September, 1971), Wiesel observed that “there are certain silences between word and word. . . . This is the silence that I have tried to put in my work.”
Although Wiesel’s words and silences are intended for all readers, Jewish and non-Jewish, Hasidic Judaism and culture shaped and still influence the man. Writing in Jewish Heritage (1972), Wiesel attests:I myself love Hasidism because I grew up in a Hasidic milieu. Whenever I want to write something good, I go back to my childhood. The soul of every writer is his childhood, and mine was a Hasidic one. I love Hasidism because of its tales, because of the intrinsic fervor that makes them Hasidic tales. I love Hasidism for something else too: it contains all the themes that haunt my work.
Although Wiesel’s Judaism is deeply ingrained, Night does not offer an uncritical view of the behavior of Jews in the face of murderous Nazi intentions. Illusion reigns for Jews in Hungary and Sighet, even with SS soldiers in their midst. No one can think the unthinkable; even the eyewitness account of a Jew who escaped from a death camp is discounted as the ravings of a madman. A woman driven to insanity while on the train heading to Auschwitz (and death) is silenced; her visions of flames and terror are ridiculed—until the sights of the death camp’s huge chimneys loom near. A pie waits to be baked in the ghetto, sudden deportation having removed the family that hoped to enjoy it. Wiesel’s father advises his loved ones not to fear wearing the Star of David as ordered by the SS; it cannot kill you, he argues. Wiesel asks rhetorically, retrospectively, “Poor Father! Of what then did you die?”
Nevertheless, Wiesel believes that a defining mark of Judaism has been its willingness to question. Robert McAfee Brown notes that at the center of Wiesel’s work has been the urgent question of how mankind should “respond to monstrous moral evil.” In Night, Wiesel asks why he should honor the name of the God who has done nothing about the existence of the death camp Auschwitz and relates this question of theodicy to the suffering experienced by the Jews. Concerned primarily with the “defiance of suffering,” Wiesel points out in the Cargas interview that “suffering as a virtue is alien to Judaism” because “suffering is impure.” Ultimately, suffering is not to be experienced as an end or as a means to some transcendent value.
The absence of transcendent affirmation in Night involves the creation of a new kind of protagonist—not the tragic hero of past literatures but the survivor, the sufferer. As Terrence Des Pres argues in The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps (1976), the survivor chooses life, even on the unbearable terms of the persecutor, rather than death, which might redeem or ennoble him in the eyes of his audience. For Wiesel, survival, even with its terrible burden of guilt, denies the perpetrators a victory and allows the survivor’s testimony to be handed on to posterity.
Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for Night by Elie Wiesel that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of Night by Elie Wiesel in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Bearing Witness: The Power of the Memoir Genre
Night is just one of many memoirs written by Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust. Wiesel feels compelled to bear witness to the suffering that he experienced and observed in the concentration camps. In Night he narrates the experience of the deaths of his family members, the death of his adolescence, and the death in his naïve belief in man’s innate goodness. The power of the genre of the memoir is that it captures experience and insists that forgetting about such crimes against humanity is not an option, neither for Wiesel nor for the reader.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Death of Innocence and the Restoration of Hope
In Night, memoirist Elie Wiesel shares his most personal memories of the Holocaust, which he experienced directly and during which he lost his family and many friends. The pervasiveness of unparalleled evil perpetrated by the Germans against the Jews shattered young Elie’s hopefulness and his belief in the innate goodness of human beings. Although he could have retained that view throughout the remainder of his life, Night ultimately shows how Wiesel was eventually able to restore hope and optimism and belief in others and to live with the enormous burden of pain that he carries. The process that Wiesel endures in order to arrive at the restoration of hope is only hinted at, however. In the last line of the memoir, Wiesel alludes that the stare that is returned to him when he looks in a mirror compelled him to move forward in his life and to reject impulses of death.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Father-Son Relationships
One of the most painful situations and preoccupying thoughts that trouble young Elie involve the ways in which father-son relationships are torn asunder by the camps. He watches as sons deny—or at least consider denying—care to their fathers, putting their own interests before familial ties. Elie struggles with the same conflict when his father becomes ill, and when his father finally dies, Elie is profoundly sad though also proud that he never wholly compromised his own beliefs about family. The reason that Elie finds the deterioration of father-son relationships so painful is that the maintenance of this relationship seems to be the last barrier between a world that is semi-normal and one that has completely been turned upside down. Elie must continue to care for his ailing father because to do otherwise would mean that he had become as evil as the Germans.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Metaphor of Night
Wiesel’s memoir is simply titled Night. The literal time of night in the camps is not a period of rest or respite for the Jewish prisoners; instead, it is a continuation of the persistent anxiety and fear that are experienced during the day. At the same time, night does have some positive qualities, permitting the prisoners to talk with one another and attempt to hang onto the last vestiges of normal social interactions. Night also has a symbolic function, however. It is dark and obscure, a time when people with nefarious motives operate. To young Elie, the night feels never-ending. When he is finally liberated from the concentration camp, it is not clear whether the night has given way to day. Elie will have a long way to go to find his way to the light and the restoration of a somewhat normal life.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: Food
Food is understandably a major preoccupation among the prisoners in the concentration camp. Many episodes in the memoir involve food—either its lack, its inadequacy, or its use as a tool to stimulate desired behavior. In fact, over time the Jewish prisoners come to use food in much the same way that the Germans do. Although there are still Jewish prisoners who share their food with one another, some of the prisoners insist upon a survival strategy that Elie finds difficult to accept. That survival strategy involves hoarding one’s food and other limited material goods for oneself in an every-man-for-himself philosophy. When the camps are liberated, food remains an important objects, both a literal object and a symbolic signifier of all that has been taken from the Jews and all that they will need to do to nourish themselves to heal.
This list of important quotations from Night by Elie Wiesel will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Night by Elie Wiesel listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Elie Wiesel they are referring to.
“We settled in. (What a word!)." (20)
“A terrible thought crossed my mind: What if he had wanted to be rid of his father? He had felt his father growing weaker…had thought…to free himself of a burden that could diminish his own change for survival. It was good that I had forgotten all that." (91).
“One day when we had come to a stop, a worker took a piece of bread out of his bag and threw it into a wagon. There was a stampede. Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs. The worker watched the spectacle with great interest." (100)
“On my return from the bread distribution, I found my father crying like a child." (109)
“Listen to me, kid. Don’t forget that you are in a concentration camp. In this place, it is every man for himself, and you cannot think of others. Not even your father. In this place, there is no such thing as father, brother, friend. Each of us lives and dies alone." (110)
“I remained in Buchenwald until April 11. I shall not describe my life during that period. It no longer mattered. Since my father’s death, nothing mattered to me anymore." (113)
“I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I was out of tears. And deep inside me, if I could have searched the recesses of my feeble conscience, I might have found something like: Free at last!" (112)
“Our first act as free men was to throw ourselves onto the provisions. That’s all we thought about. No thought of revenge, or of parents. Only of bread." (115)
“From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me." (115)
Reference: Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972