Night Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Violin (Symbol)

While the symbol of the violin does not appear all too frequently, when it does appear it is arguably the single greatest symbol of defiance against the Nazis. The violin belongs to Julie, a polish musician who somehow keeps his violin throughout his time at the concentration camp. One night Wiesel hears Juliek playing the violin as though it were the song of the violin that were conveying Juliek’s life, a final song, a cry for humanity that cut through the silence. When Weisel finds both Juliek and his violin destroyed the following morning, it is as if the Nazis have robbed not only the voice of Juliek, but also destroyed the last evidence of his civility. As the concentrations camps become more and more dire in their conditions, people become more and more animal like. The violin is not only a symbol of the voice of the Jewish people, but also a symbol of their intelligence and civility that is destroyed with the death of Juliek.

Anonymity versus Individuality (Motif)

Wiesel not only describes the camps as mechanisms that rob people of their humanity, but also as tools through which individuality is stripped from the prisoners. The motif of this is strongest when Wiesel cannot recognize his own father, even after seeing him up close. The misidentification of this stranger as his father suggests that the prisoners have turned into one entity of faceless, collective sufferers. By the time that Eliezer escapes the concentration camp, he cannot even recognize his own reflection, suggesting that it was not his own reflection, but instead the eyes of a corpse that stared back at him. In a sense the Nazis turned the prisoners not just into anonymous beings, but true ghosts of their former selves.

Night (Symbol and Motif)

The namesake of the title, this symbol and motif is the most pervasive through Wiesel’s novel. Darkness and night become not impetus for moments of rest, but instead continued and prolonged times of survival. Darkness both symbolizes how clarity and truth are obfuscated by the evil of the Nazis, and also how time itself becomes “one long night.” The nightmarish visions that Eliezer experiences at Auschwitz also reveal a harrowing fact about the concentration camps: that nightmares have taken residence from the underworld into reality, so that the world that Eliezer knows is replaced by a senseless hell on earth.

Time (motif)

Wiesel’s writing style actually mimics the way that he experience time, so that when his life loses meaning with the passing of his father’s death, time, too, ceases to exist. While Wiesel tells this story chronologically, time accelerates at the end of the novel, suggesting that the way that Wiesel experienced time in the concentration camp could not be measured by clocks, or calibrated by minutes, but instead designated only by meals and tales of survival. It is the final dissipation of time that suggests that Wiesel is losing a fundamental human feature of humanity. The monotony of the concentration camps meant that the only instances that Eliezer would recall that stand out would be moments of violence that would break the routine: in a way, Eliezer was unconscious for the monotonous days since he could not commit those to memory, and only became alive to experience violence. This hellish form of existence meant that memory was only marked by disruptions to any shred of peace.

Animalism (motif)

As time progresses in the concentration camps, Wiesel compares the prisoners to animals, as their emotional ties and their voices diminish as their motivation for survival increases. At some points he describes the prisoners as “wild beasts of prey, with animal hatred in their eyes an extraordinary vitality had seized them, sharpening their teeth and nails.” The most haunting image of the animalistic behavior that the prisoners adopt is when a son kills his own father for a piece of bread. Weisel’s descriptions of these behaviors suggest that the line between civility and barbarism can be deceptively thin, and reminds the reader that as much as we may like to pretend that we are human, sometimes dire situations can rob us of our exceptionalism.