Using examples from the text, what does Wiesel convey about human nature in the concentration camps? Where does he (if at all) draw the line between humanity and barbarism?
Early on, Eliezer indicates that it does not take much for a complete breakdown of civility to ensue. Even as the Jews are deported from Sighet, Eliezer reveals, couples began to openly copulate in the train car. As more and more time is spent in the camps, Eliezer describes a situation in which man turns into beast. This is best exemplified in which the guards throw bread into the train car and fighting ensues, to the point at which hunger is more important to the body that relationships are to the mind, and a man kills his own father for the piece of bread. As Eliezer describes: "Men were hurling themselves against each other, trampling, tearing at and mauling each other. Beasts of prey unleashed, animal hate in their eyes. An extraordinary vitality possessed them, sharpening their teeth and nails" (pg. 101). Eliezer does not shy away from describing himself as a beast: "I fought my way to the coffee cauldron like a wild beast" (pg. 106).
Discuss Eliezer’s struggle with faith throughout the book. What is his relationship with God in the beginning, and what is it by the end of his time in the concentration camps?
At the beginning, Eliezer is very devout, and he devotes his studies to mystic teaching and to prayer. While he never fully carries a disbelief in God, throughout this time in the concentration camps he comes to resent God, and to mistrust him. Rather than deny his existence, Eliezer instead turns to interrogating God's motives. He foreshadows this transformation at the start of the book, saying, "In the beginning there was faith—which is childish; trust—which is vain; and illusion—which is dangerous." (Forward). After time spent in the camps, Eliezer questions God: "What are You, my God? I thought angrily. How do You compare to this stricken mass gathered to affirm to You their faith, their anger, their defiance? What does Your grandeur mean, Master of the Universe, in the face of all this cowardice, this decay, and this misery? Why do you go on troubling these poor people's wounded minds, their ailing bodies?" (pg. 66.)
Throughout the piece, Eliezer sometimes separates his mind and his body. When are some examples of this, and what does he convey by describing himself in these ways?
The strongest example of when Eliezer separates himself from his body is during the death march in the snow, in which he describes his body as something that merely anchors him, acting against his desire to be free of pain and suffering. As he states: "I was putting one foot in front of the other, like a machine. I was dragging this emaciated body that was still such a weight. If only I could have shed it! Though I tried to put it out of my mind, I couldn't help thinking that there were two of us: my body and I. And I hated that body" (pg. 85). Another moment that conveys this separation of mind and body is when both his mind and his body are afraid of a blow to the head similar to the one that a guard had dealt his father: "I didn't move. I was afraid, my body was afraid of another blow, this time to my head" (pg. 111).
Though there are many images of prisoners struggling to live, there are also more unnerving ones of prisoners becoming so apathetic that their will to die is stronger. To what does Eliezer attribute this apathy, and how does he describe prisoner’s “will to live"?
Eliezer frequently attributes death of the prisoners not only to dire circumstances and the struggle for survival, but also to moments of apathy in which prisoners simply give up. More often than not, Eliezer attributes the loss of the will to live to two principal factors: the complete disbelief in God, and the knowledge that one's family has perished. The earliest evidence of this is the incident of Akiba Drumer, in which Eliezer lies to him and tells him that his family is well:
"'The only thing that keeps me alive,' [Drumer] kept saying, 'is to know that Reizel and the little ones are still alive. Were it not for them, I would give up.' One evening, he came to see us, his face radiant. 'A transport just arrived from Antwerp. I shall go to see them tomorrow. Surely they will have news …' He left. We never saw him again. He had been given the news. The real news"(pg. 45). When Eliezer believes that his father, who looks weakened and frozen after the march, may be dead, he says, "Suddenly, the evidence overwhelmed me: there was no longer any reason to live, any reason to fight" (pg. 99).
Discuss Eliezer and his father’s evolving relationship throughout the piece. At one point is there a role reversal—when does this happen, and how does Eliezer cope with it?
Throughout Night, Weisel describes how the trials of the concentration camp effectively switch the roles of father and son over time. The father-and-son relationship is first strained when Eliezer immediately understands the immediacy of the deportation threat and asks his father to "sell everything, liquidate everything, and to leave." Before even being deported, Eliezer's father refuses to get an immigration pass to Palestine, citing his age: "I am too old my son...too old to start a new life...too old to start from scratch in a distant land" (pg. 9). At the beginning of the piece, this is where the age difference between Eliezer and his father appears to be the widest; thereafter, the hardships narrow this chasm until, by the end of the piece, there is almost a complete temporal switch.
While there are indeed some instances in which Weisel's father looks out for his son (including giving him extra rations of bread) by the end, Eliezer begins to take on more and more responsibility for his father, until the pressure of having his father rely on him becomes almost unbearable. After the march through the snow, Eliezer's father develops dysentery and relies completely on his son for survival. The last word on his father's lips is "Eliezer." Eliezer feels numb to his father's death and feels guilty for being somehow grateful for his father's passing:"I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I was out of tears. And deep inside me, if I could have searched the recesses of my feeble conscience, I might have found something like: Free at last!" (pg. 112.)