Conflicts in Night by Elie Wiesel

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  • 0:00 Conflict And Night
  • 0:42 Conflict In Literature
  • 1:56 Man vs. Self
  • 2:51 Man vs. Man
  • 3:44 Man vs. Society
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Kousch

Amy has taught English and communications courses and has a master's degree in agricultural communication.

In today's lesson, we will define and identify conflict in literature. Then, we will apply literary conflict to the struggles of characters in Elie Wiesel's memoir, 'Night'.

Conflict and Night

One of the most significantly destructive conflicts of the 21st century, World War II, saw about six million Jewish Europeans brutally slaughtered through a systematic program of hate and extermination. Individuals who survived under this regime of violence bear the mark of having survived some of the most dangerous and lethal conditions known to humankind.

One such survivor, Elie Wiesel, penned a memoir called Night, for which he was awarded a Nobel peace prize, about his experience as a thirteen-year old boy being sent off to the Nazi death camps. Today, we will look at some of the conflicts illustrated in Wiesel's work.

Conflict in Literature

Conflict in literature is the same as conflict in our real lives. When we are faced with pressure and challenges from others, ourselves, and the world around us, a struggle ensues. We often have internal conflicts, when we can't make decisions or we question our own actions, faith, or feelings. Or, we can have external conflicts, which manifest when forces outside of ourselves cause strife in our lives.

In literature, conflict falls into four major categories. It is important to note that not every type of conflict needs to be present in each piece of writing. An internal conflict involves a main character and his or her battles against inner thoughts and reverberations of the psyche. This is referred to as man vs. self. Inner conflicts can cause significant duress for the individual experiencing them.

The three external conflicts include:

  • Man vs. man, when a character faces challenges from another human character.
  • Man vs. society, when a larger institution, group, or government brings trouble to a character.
  • Man vs. nature, when forces in nature, outside of human control, temper a character's fortitude.

Let's explore some of these major conflict types found in Night.

Man vs. Self

In Elie Wiesel's memoir, we see the faith of young Elie tempered time and again. His inner dialogue allows readers to see the struggle taking forth in his mind. He is fighting with his own doubts, anger, betrayal and confusion as the terror of the Nazi concentration camps destroys his belief in God.

He narrates, 'For the first time, I felt anger rising within me. Why should I sanctify his name? The Almighty, the eternal and terrible Master of the Universe, chose to be silent. What was there to thank him for?'

Another significant inner conflict of Elie's is his alternating shame and then remorse for his father's decline in health and stamina as the toll of malnutrition wears on. He says, 'If only I were relieved of this responsibility. I could use all my strength to fight for my own survival, to take care only of myself... Instantly I felt ashamed, ashamed of myself forever.'

Man vs. Man

During Wiesel's account, readers are offered an intimate picture of how society breaks down at the individual level during periods of great conflict, stress, and trauma. We see even prisoners treat each other with sub-human intent and actions. At one point, an older man counsels Elie to stop taking care of his father, an especially tragic consequence of the Holocaust.

The man advises, '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 can not 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.'

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