Elie Wiesel's Night: Themes & Imagery

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

In this lesson, we will explore three of the major themes of 'Night' and the imagery that the author, Elie Wiesel, uses to create them. The themes we will discuss are identity, silence, and night.

About the Book

If you were an observant Jew who believed in a loving God, then you and your family were captured by a group of ill-intentioned people, causing the death of your family, what would you think about whether God and humans are good or not? That is the main concern of Eliezer, the main character in Night. Night is the first in a trilogy about the Holocaust written by Romanian Jew, Elie Wiesel, and is a semi-autobiographical work, meaning the author intertwines his/her life and experiences with a fictional story. Night tells the story about a Jewish boy, Eliezer, and his father's experience in the Birkenau/Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II. Wiesel experienced the same things as Eliezer, but includes additional fictional stories and details about the characters to create more of a novel than a memoir. The main focus of the book is to reflect on Eliezer's questioning of God's nature, and even his existence, as well as the nature of humanity during his experience in the Holocaust. Wiesel uses the following themes to create this engaging story:

  • identity
  • silence
  • night

Loss of Identity

At the beginning of the book, we meet Eliezer who is an observant Jewish boy. This involves not only having faith in God (whom Eliezer believes is loving, but also a just punisher), but also keeping Jewish laws, like the dietary law (kashrut), observing holidays by fasting, and studying the Torah. His identity, or how he relates to and sees himself as part of the world, is formed around this Jewish upbringing and his relationship with his family. He and his father are separated from the female members of their family when entering the concentration camp, beginning the stripping away of Eliezer's identity. The men are then shaved and tattooed--both actions that are against Jewish law. Eliezer is also advised to tell the Nazis that he is eighteen, rather than fifteen so he might survive. This lie he tells becomes his identity during his time at the camps. During Eliezer's time at the concentration camps, he questions God's nature and seems to stop having faith in God, but he also struggles to balance his lack of faith with keeping Jewish traditions. The traditions are all that are left for Eliezer to cling to in order to maintain some sense of his real identity.

Elie Wiesel (farthest right in the center section) in Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1945
Buchenwald

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