What is the culture in Night by Elie Wiesel?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The culture that Wiesel addresses in his narrative is the Jewish culture.  This particular culture was targeted by Hitler and the Nazis during the Holocaust.  The entire premise of the Holocaust is shown to be a systematic extermination of the Jewish culture.  The opening of the narrative in Sighet is one in which Eliezer is a student of Jewish sacred texts such as the Kabbalah and one in which his studies of Jewish spirituality are essential to his being in the world.  It is here in which one sees the culture of the narrative to be the Jewish one.

At the same time, Wiesel details the culture of those who lived in the camps.  This culture is one of brutality and survival.  Part of what makes Night such a compelling work is that Wiesel is able to illuminate the culture of the death camps.  This consists of the dehumanization, the suffering, and the lack of identity that the victims of the Nazis were forced to embody.  In the narrative, this culture is seen in children who betray parents, the abandonment of communitarian ties, and the cruelty that compels individual to abandon hope of divine redemption.  When Eliezer feels that he is nothing but "ashes," it is an embodiment of the culture of suffering that the Nazis perpetrated on their victims and the culture of the narrative.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The culture in Night is the Hasidic Jewish culture in Sighet, Hungary. Elie Wiesel says of himself at the beginning of the book, "I was thirteen and deeply observant" (page 3). During the day, Elie studies the Talmud, and he asks his father for permission to study Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism. Eventually, Moishe the Beadle helps Eli study the Zohar, the fundamental text of the Kabbalah. Elie spends his days in the synagogue studying and praying until the Germans arrive in Sighet and begin arresting Jews during their observation of Passover. He also describes himself as wrapping phylacteries, which are scriptures contained in boxes that observant Jews wrap on their arms and heads as part of prayer. When the Nazis round up the Jews in Sighet, Elie sees the Chief Rabbi, looking strange without a beard, and the scene reminds him of something from history, such as the Babylonian captivity. The world of Elie's youth is that of observant Judaism in Europe—a world that the Nazis tried to destroy.