April 12, 2008

On Elie Wiesel's Night

Elie Wiesel is one of the foremost writers on the Holocaust, not only because of his vivid memories of the subject, but also because of the nature by which he writes. His novels help to highlight important parts of the human condition through his experiences in the Holocaust. As such, his most seminal work, Night is a necessary reading for any individuals seeking to understand the Holocaust, and especially its effects on individual people. Wiesel’s book provides a great insight into how the Holocaust and especially Nazi policies affected people on the micro level, away from the grand schemes of World War II, a purpose that he fulfills superbly throughout the novel.

Wiesel’s secondary purpose is to simply tell his story as he remembers it, and to that extent the narrative is extremely important to his book. His writing makes the narrative convincing: Wiesel writes in short sentences, but though they lack long-windedness they hold a huge amount of detail. His description of Moshe the Beadle after his escape from Poland conveys almost every important detail necessary about the character:
“There was no longer any joy in his eyes. He no longer sang. He no longer talked to me of God or the Kabbalah, but only of what he had seen. People refused not only to believe his stories, but even to listen to him.” (4)
The narrative also comprehensively covers the subject of the Holocaust, though it focuses more on the actual war years than the pre-war aspects. Part of this results from the fact that the author did not live in Germany at the time, and thus the Nazi policies before the war had only a tangential effect on him. However, of the actual Holocaust itself, Night covers almost all of the most important subjects, giving readers an excellent view of the Holocaust’s entirety.

The author’s point of view is evidently clear: he hates what has happened to him, but cannot move past it. Wiesel wrote this book after years spent in France, and the influence is evident: much of his work reflects the tone of Existentialist writing common to the time and place. As such, his biases are influenced by Existentialist thought and his hatred of those that abused him. This result is evident, like when he says that he “began to hate them, and my hate is still the only link between us today.” (17) This shows that the author’s bias includes his hatred of the past events and also shows that with a detached Existentialist viewpoint, he is able to examine the past critically.

Arguably, the best part of the novel comes through one of its most tragic moments, when Wiesel witnesses the death of a little child. Watching the boy “struggling between life and death” (61), Wiesel provides an insightful commentary onto the nature of God and belief, one that he had brought up earlier in the novel. In doing so, Wiesel manages to make the novel more believable and better in general.

It is very clear that the novel demonstrates good writing style. The flow of the book itself is fluid; rarely does it feel like the action has been interrupted in any way. The diction is among the best that I’ve personally witnessed: Wiesel knows what words to use at exactly the right times. It is interesting to read, although the subject matter makes the book hard to read at times. This book also manages to appeal to both the scholar and the popular audience. It has aspects that can be examined from an academic, historical, and philosophical viewpoint while also being a work that anyone can quite literally pick up and read.

This book has raised several interesting philosophical questions, the most important being the effect the Holocaust has had on modern society’s view of faith. Many of the viewpoints shown by Wiesel in Night, specifically the death of God and his loss of faith are important questions in today’s modern culture, and are of paramount importance. Night helps to bring these questions into a more relevant light, giving a context conducive to answer them. Ultimately, the reason that I liked this book a lot came from the questions about faith that it asked of me.

The book has greatly affected my teaching of the Holocaust. I will now seriously suggest that everyone read Night in order to get a better understanding of the Holocaust on an individual level. The insights provided by the book are an absolute necessity for anyone who wants to have a serious discussion on the causes, effects and consequences of the Holocaust not just on a broad level, but also on the individual level, making Night a necessary read for all interested in the subject.

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