In Night by Elie Wiesel, what comment does the behavior of fathers and sons in chapters 3-5 make on the theme of self-preservation versus family commitment?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The question is asking us to analyze what is seen in chapters 3, 4, 5 regarding the relationship between fathers and sons.  In seeing these examples, what is noticed in terms of self- preservation and family commitment?  Are there clear instances where one is favored or another?  To put it another way, does survival become more important than family?  I think that this question is going to be more evident and more intense as the narrative continues.  Certainly, there are examples in the chapters of how family commitment trumps that of self- preservation.  Eliezer and his father stay together in chapter 3.  When Dr. Mengele makes his initial selections, Eliezer and his family stay together.  We do not see one of them sacrifice the other.  In fact, the father laments this, suggesting to Eliezer that it might have been better had he gone with his mother, for at least they would have died together.  This suggests that family commitment is superior to self- preservation at this point in the text.  It is interesting to note that when Eliezer's father is beaten for coughing, Eliezer does not rush to his defense.  No one is blaming Eliezer as it is so difficult to blame any of the prisoners of the Nazis.  Yet, it is noteworthy because whether it is liked or not, the moment does reflect an instant where self- preservation is more important than family commitment.  This is expanded in Chapter 4, where Eliezer actively moves away from his father being beaten.  When Eliezer tries to teach his father to march, it can be seen as solidarity of family, but in keeping with the narrative being detailed, it is something that Eliezer keeps teaching his father to preserve himself, expanding the idea that Eliezer is appropriating the form of the concentration camp world around him.  Chapter 5 shows again a moment where there is a fundamental choice between self- preservation versus family commitment, but this time Eliezer's father chooses family commitment when he stays with his son in the infirmary.  It becomes highly telling and relevant that Wiesel constructs the narrative with the father, the older generation representing the bonds of loyalty to the family, while the aspect of self- preservation is more evident in the younger generation in terms of it being more dominant with Eliezer.

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