Tone of Night by Elie Wiesel

Instructor: Liz Breazeale
The tone of a particular work is always an important thing to understand and examine. In this lesson, you'll learn about the tone of Elie Wiesel's ''Night'', and look at what communicates tone to you, the reader.

What is Tone?

You've probably heard the word tone before, maybe in a different context than a literary one (like when your mom used to say 'Don't you use that tone with me!' or your friend wants to tone his/her muscles at the gym). And while those are definitely valid uses of the word, those aren't quite the same as when you use 'tone' in a literary or artistic context.

So what is meant by a work's tone? Well, in this context the tone is the work's general air or attitude. No two works have the same tone, even if they're written by the same author. It's the way a book or story feels when you read it, almost like its overall personality. A work's tone can be pretentious, sad, somber, or even upbeat and jokey.

In this lesson, you're going to examine the tone of Elie Wiesel's novel, Night, which is about his experience at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. As you can imagine, this isn't a happy book. So you'd be right in assuming the tone of this piece will be somber, thoughtful, honest and very mournful. In the next few sections, you'll see some examples of moments that point to this tone, and you'll also learn a bit about how the tone of this book is crafted.

A Feeling of Mourning

As you know, millions of people were murdered during the Holocaust, many of them European Jews. This is the world Wiesel paints for you, the reader, in his work. There's a real, heartfelt sense of mourning as a result throughout the story, from the very first moment.

And while Wiesel mourns, he does his best to avoid blame. Wiesel mourns the fact that his fellow townspeople of Sighet don't heed the warnings of the oncoming Nazi threat; he mourns the loss of his hometown and the people he loves. But he doesn't blame the townspeople. He doesn't blame them for not leaving or preparing. He's just very sad that any of these events happened.

And Wiesel mourns the awful things that happen in the concentration camps. He sees the bodies of children burned. He sees men shot and left in the snow. He loses his mother and younger sister in the gas chamber, and loses his father much later in the book. He even mourns that he cannot perform any mourning ritual for his father. But it's not even the lack of ritual he's saddened by, but the lack of any desire to perform one that he mourns. He mourns his loss of faith in humans and in God at this moment.

Wiesel, most of all, seems to mourn the fate of humanity. Again, he doesn't blame those who treat him so poorly. He just mourns that the Holocaust ever occurred, and he mourns the lives that were lost for no reason, which is communicated throughout the book.

Elie Wiesel mourns the events of the Holocaust in this book
Buchenwald

Honesty

One of the most interesting parts of this book's tone is its honesty. Wiesel pulls no punches, describing in stark details the realities of the camps. And although this makes for a brutal read, it also offers the tone a great deal of thoughtfulness. You can take this book seriously. Wiesel goes to great lengths to provide honest portraits, whether he's describing a death march in frigid temperatures or the narrator's guilt at sleeping while his father dies.

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