Throughout the novel, Wiesel uses both literal and figurative silence to connote the lack of voice that Jews in the concentration camps have against their captors. One of the ways that silence permeates the book is the way in which God remains silent to the plight and violence against Jews. This is evident in several moments of the book, when one prisoner asks during the hanging of the silent angel “where god is.” When silence is broken, it is often to remind the reader of moments of humanity, such as when Juliek plays Beethoven in the middle of the night, reminding the rest of the prisoners that they are intelligent human beings, not silent animals.
Though probably somewhat an obvious theme given the title, night is constant theme that appears throughout the book, mostly to symbolize the darkness into which the world has plummeted. The first time that “night” is made apparent is when Wiesel describes the first night in the concentration camp, saying, “never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed.” An endless night symbolizes how Weisel and his fellow prisoners experienced time, in which routine violence governs their existences, and in which day offers no respite from darkness.
Perhaps one of the most salient themes is Wiesel’s insight into human nature, his descriptions posing the reader with the question of where animal instinct ends and civility begins. The breakdown of civility happens very early on, when people are first herded onto the cattle cars and some young couples begin to openly copulate with each other. As comfort is substituted for violence, people in Wiesel’s world are frequently described as beasts, and their survival instincts supersede their emotions and relational ties, even when it comes to family: the most tragic example is when a young man kills his own father for a piece of bread. By the end of the book, the reader understands that countless people lost more than their lives: they were also robbed of their humanity.
Related to both human nature and to loyalty, dignity is also a theme that permeates the book. Dignity also ebbs with time in the concentration camps, as routine things that gave meaning to live are stripped away. One of the key examples of this is when Akiba Drummer is sentenced to death and asks people to pray for him, to “say the kaddish.” Though people promise him that they will do so, they all forget to give him a dignified death, as people no longer value remembering each other. Dignity, of giving life meaning and making sense of one’s place in it, dissipates in favor of survival.
Faith in God
A huge theme throughout the piece is the evolving relationship that Wiesel has with God. The reader learns early on in the book that Eliezer is very devout and eager to learn more about his faith, but as time continues, so the stability of his faith is challenged. Interestingly, it is not that Wiesel ever stops believing in God in entirely, but more that he has a deep resentment of a god who has allowed for such evil to persist. Wiesel frequently identifies the reason for people’s death as their loss of a will to live; while Wiesel does indeed lose faith, he never does so completely, and the reader is led to believe that it is perhaps his emotion, even if negative, towards God, that is partly responsible for keeping him alive.
Tied to the theme of human nature and dignity, scenes and discussions of loyalty permeate the novel. Though Wiesel trusts his father, he at times does not appear to trust himself, and he often condemns himself for thinking his life in the concentration camp would be easier if he were alone and unburdened by his father. However, after witnessing instances of family betrayal in the concentration camp, Wiesel begs to God that he will never betray his father. Though Wiesel is true to his world, loyalty for others in the concentration camp breaks down as resources become scarcer and survival instincts replace loyal ties. Eliezer does not blame the prisoners for severing ties of loyalty: instead, he blames the Nazis for giving them no other choice.
While an obvious theme in the book would be freedom from the concentration camps, Wiesel also includes more subversive examples of freedom. As his father weakens, Wiesel feels burdened by having to care for his father. When his father is near death and taken to the crematory, Wiesel resents himself for, in some ways, feeling freed from his responsibility by his father’s death. Wiesel also pictures freedom as not only as defined as being liberated from the concentration camps, but in some cases as being freed from life itself. He describes life as burdensome, and the act of living it as a torture from which he sometimes wishes to be released.
Night Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Night is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Akiba Drumer is a deeply devout mystic with a beautiful baritone voice. He loses his faith at Buna and, simultaneously, his will to live. He is sent to the crematories after the selection at Buna. Elie too was once fascinated with Jewish...