Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, a young Jewish man, born in New York City in 1949 and living in a Hasidic section of Brooklyn. Reared and educated as an Orthodox Jew, he was silent and often gloomy as a young child. Later, during adolescence, as he studies to become a writer and teacher, he sets out on a quest to uncover the inaccessible mysteries of his father’s painful experiences in Germany during the 1940’s. The narrator deeply loves his father, considering him the most important influence in his life. Since childhood, the narrator has felt cut off from his father’s thoughts; he has ached to share the older man’s wisdom and pain. In his quest, however, he is able to learn of his father’s past from the latter’s notes, written to his dead firstborn son, and from the discourses of his father’s two old friends.

Reuven Tamiroff

Reuven Tamiroff, the father of the narrator, a librarian living in Brooklyn, New York. After surviving World War II in Davarowsk, Germany, along with his wife, Reuven settled into a quiet life of books and scholarship on his beloved philosopher, Paritus. When his wife’s mental breakdown in the mid-1950’s forces her to live in a hospital, Reuven rears his son, the narrator, alone, showing him love and attention, taking him nearly everywhere he goes, and allowing him to visit with the one old friend who visits their home. He cannot speak of his past; the secrets of his life in the ghetto and the concentration camps are so terrible that they cannot be put into speech. To help overcome his grief, he writes loving letters to his dead six-year-old son, who was murdered by the Angel, a Nazi officer in Germany.


Simha-the-Dark, the only close friend of Reuven, both in Germany and, later, in Brooklyn. A clever metaphysical man who earns his comfortable living as a merchant “selling shadows,” Simha meets with Reuven on the last Thursday of each month to argue philosophical issues. The issue that most occupies the two men is the justification of acts of vengeance...

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The Fifth Son Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Abrahamson, Irving, ed. Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel. 3 vols. New York: Holocaust Library, 1985.

Brown, Robert McAfee. Elie Wiesel: Messenger to All Humanity. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.

Drainie, Bronwyn. “The Guilt of the Next Generation.” Toronto Globe and Mail, April 20, 1985, p. E17.

Fine, Ellen S. Legacy of “Night”: The Literary Universe of Elie Wiesel. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982.

Kolbert, Jack. The Worlds of Elie Wiesel: An Overview of His Career and His Major Themes. Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 2001.

Mano, D. Keith. “An Omen or Three.” The National Review 37 (July 12, 1985): 57-59.

Morton, Frederic. “Execution as an Act of Intimacy.” The New York Times Book Review, March 24, 1985, p. 8.

Rosen, Alan, ed. Celebrating Elie Wiesel: Stories, Essays, Reflections. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998.

Wiesel, Elie, and Richard D. Heffner. Conversations with Elie Wiesel. Edited by Thomas J. Vinciguerra. New York: Schocken Books, 2001.