To what did Wiesel compare the world in Night?
Elie Wiesel's Night is the semiautobiographical story of Wiesel's Holocaust experience in his early teens. The story is filled with haunting imagery and symbols and poetic diction.
Wiesel refers frequently to the "world" in the story to emphasize the universal importance of his experience. In some ways, the novel is a plea to the world at large to take notice, and never, ever forget what happened in the Holocaust in World War II Europe.
He establishes this idea of the world very early in the story when he introduces the character of Moshe the Beadle. In so doing, he also establishes the idea of imminent danger, an idea that he will continue to develop throughout the first half of the novel.
Moshe is Elie’s spiritual guide. As he begins to instruct Elie in the mystical side of the Jewish faith, he tells Elie:
. . . the world of mysticism, [is] a world fraught with peril.
The mystical world is the world Elie wishes to explore, but just as he begins, the Germans intervene and the Holocaust destroys this wish. He is dragged into an entirely different world.
By stating that it is a world “fraught with peril,” Wiesel introduces the idea of danger. There is some kind of danger, a danger Wiesel does not explain, in mystical pursuits. Instead, the political, material, violent, and hateful world snatches Elie away from his true desire. As we will see in the rest of the story, Elie will never be the same.
The world, in this sense, is compared to full expanse of human possibility and fulfillment on the one hand, and the destructive tendencies of mankind on the other.
The world represents a strong motif in Night with many occurrences. An early metaphor--which is a comparison between two unlike things--describes the world as a "hermetically sealed cattle car." A hermetic seal is one that is airtight. A cattle car, of course, is a train car that is used to haul cattle. The metaphor incorporates a paradox and an irony.
The world had become a hermetically sealed cattle car.
It is ironic that a cattle car would be airtight because the point of shipping cattle in a special freight car is to make sure they have plenty of air so they arrive at their destination alive and only a little the worse for the trip. The paradox is that train freight cars for keeping cargo alive might be sealed and crammed full for letting humans die.
The idea of a hermetic seal becomes a silent theme that runs through the continuing motif of the world. The hermetic seal provides the unspoken answer to the questions asked about the world: each of the following questions may very well be answered with "because the world too is hermetically sealed and kept away from truth ....":
How was it possible that men, women, and children were being burned and that the world kept silent? No. All this could not be real ....
The world would never tolerate such crimes. "The world? The world is not interested in us. Today, everything is possible ...."
Those whose numbers had been noted were standing apart, abandoned by the whole world. Some were silently weeping.