Dehumanization is a long word, and it simply means viewing fellow humans in a less-than-human way. It's nothing the prisoners tried to do or wanted to do, but it is the natural consequence of deprivation. This chapter encapsulates the effects of this phenomena; at the same time, it offers a glimmer of a future in which this nightmare will be over and some will survive. The incident with the French girl is a little bit of encouragement to me. I already know Elie lives, but I want to know he'll be okay. This chapter gives me hope.
I feel akannan is correct in highlighting one of the central themes of this novel. When we are treated inhumanely, we come to treat others inhumanely as well. This is a theme that is repeated throughout the entire novel from the violence of the Jews towards Mrs. Shachter to the terrible sight of a son killing his father for a scrap of bread. In this chapter we see Idek being another example of this violence that is handed on, and we also see Elie potentially succumbing to this as well with his annoyance at his father for drawing Idek's wrath onto himself. Yet we also see some hope offered in the French girl who comforts Elie.
I think that this particular is a powerful one for the reasons above. I also think that it is so compelling because Wiesel is poignant in his assertion that one of the worst aspects of the Holocaust is the idea that it prompted the dissolution of bonds between human beings. While the hope would be that in the most dire of situations, the connection between humans is the strongest, the reality is that the worst aspects on all level is shown when individuals have to turn from one another when immersed in the most gruesome of moments in human history.
This chapter certainly focuses on Elie's change. Things are important that didn't used to be...for instance, when Elie and his father were first separated from the rest of the family, they pledged to be together no matter what. Loyalty to family is all that matters. In this chapter, we see that Elie is pulling away from that. He is angry with his father, not Idek, for the beating which takes place in this chapter. He is distancing himself a little from his father as a defense mechanism and a safety feature. It is survival of the fittest. Elie is acutely aware of his hunger in this chapter, as well he says, ""I was a body. Perhaps less than that even: a starved stomach. The stomach alone was aware of the passage of time." So, what becomes more important than family relationships is food and survival.
How did I react? With extreme sadness. Of course, the chapter is a roller coaster. The french girl who treated him kindly was an upper, the fact that they get to rest a little being in a good unit with easy work is an upper. Idek's cruelty and violent streaks are fearful, and the hunger that gnaws at everyone...especially the oldest and youngest in the camps...is excruciating.