How is the motif of eyes used by Wiesel to characterize the personalities of the people in the camps?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wiesel's use of an eye motif is one of the reasons his memoir is so masterfully written.  He adds an element normally associated with fiction--a motif--to his nonfiction account.  Notice that Wiesel describes the eyes of almost every person he encounters, not just in the camps, but also before the camps and eventually himself at the memoir's end.  Eyes for Wiesel most often illustrate someone's sanity (or lack thereof) or spiritual state.  Here are several examples.

1. Moche the Beadle--when Wiesel describes him in Chapter 1, he writes that Moche possesses "dreamy" eyes.  He is the picture of innocence and heavenly wisdom.  In contrast, when Moche returns from his horrific experience where he witnesses infants being used as targets, his eyes have lost their dreaminess and are hollow.

2. Akiba Drumer--he serves as Elie's religious mentor early on in the camps and keeps up the religious hopes of many of the prisoners.  However, when he learns that he is going to his death at Auschwitz, Wiesel writes that his eyes became like "open wounds," illustrating his loss of hope and perhaps of religious faith.

3. Franek--Elie describes him as having "hooligan" eyes. To most, he represents someone who has perhaps been abused so much that he has gone mad and bullies others.  His eyes are glazed over with anger and madness.

4. Elie--at the beginning of the memoir, Elie is a young man full of faith and hope.  He believes in his god so strongly that he wants to pursue a more mystical version of Judaism (Cabbalism) which requires one to practice great faith not only in the supernatural but also in the power of human nature. At the end of the novel, Elie looks at himself in the mirror and sees the eyes of a corpse looking back at him.  He has lost all faith in God.  The corpse shows his emotional and spiritual death.