Motifs in Night by Elie Wiesel

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

We will engage in a discussion of the motifs in Night by Elie Wiesel. This stark book set during the Holocaust shows the reader that traditions could not be sustained and religious observances were lost by many.


Elie Wiesel, in his book Night, takes the reader on a terrifying journey through the day-to-day existence of his main character Eliezer at the hands of the German occupiers during the Holocaust. When the war was over, six million Jews had been exterminated.

Night by Elie Wiesel
Night by Elie Wiesel

In his book, based on Wiesel's experiences in the concentration camps, the reader is provided a front-row seat into the inner thoughts of the captives, their struggles with faith, and their unfolding awareness and disbelief that the world remained largely silent while unspeakable horrors were happening.

Wiesel uses motifs (recurring structures that help develop the themes in the work) such as tradition and religious observance to help shed light on the horrors and losses of the holocaust.


The concept of tradition is of great significance in Judaism. These traditions are handed down from generation to generation in an effort to maintain the religion and it values. When Hitler came into power, his goal was to annihilate and humiliate Jews and all they believed in and practiced as a part of the religion. Night shows us how systematic this was and the impact this had on the people. In Night, Jews were forced to break their most sacred traditions. Their dietary laws were demolished, their heads were shaved and tattooed, and the goal of wiping out the entire population was intended to eradicate Judaism and their cultural identity from the face of the earth.

We see many examples of tradition in Night. Traditions around the concept of God are a prevalent image. 'Every one around us was weeping... may his name be sanctified'. This made Eliezer angry. When he heard his father utter these words, his anger rose. He did not understand how God could be praised when so much agony was happening around him.

Later in the book, Eliezer has lost all faith in God and religion. He tells us, 'Where is merciful God, where is he?' These words are spoken by the men around him after two men and a boy were hanged because the boy looked so innocent.

Eliezer is determined to hold onto tradition, even when he as lost faith. He tries to observe fasting on Yom Kippur, but finds it a struggle. He suffers guilt when he realizes that he has forgotten to say Kaddish, a mourners prayer, for Akiba Drumer because he fears he has slighted the traditions he was raised to observe. Once it is clear he has lost all faith he says, 'Blessed be Gods name. Why, but why would I bless him?'

Religious Observance

The struggle with religious observance experienced by Eliezer is an important motif in Night. In the early pages of this book, religious observances are prevalent. He is upset that the Nazis have destroyed the synagogue and as a result have dishonored the Sabbath. By the end of Night, Eliezer makes very few references to religion. However, the entire book is held together by religious metaphors. There are biblical references, and although Eliezer claims that religion and faith have ceased to be important to him, Night is filled with images of both.

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