What does "night" symbolize in Elie Wiesel's Night?

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In Night by Elie Wiesel, night symbolizes the spiritual darkness that Elie undergoes during his time in the concentration camps.

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Elie Wiesel's Night is aptly titled, since night is the central symbol of the novel. For Elie, the entire period that he spends in the camps is one long night dominated by darkness, terror, and uncertainty. He is never certain that he or his loved ones will survive this ordeal. Many of the worst events in the novel occur at night, such as Elie's terrifying arrival at the camp, the march to Gleiwitz, and his father's slow death in the prison barracks.

Night might most accurately represent Elie's spiritual darkness. Before being taken to the camps, Elie was a very pious Jewish boy. He had complete faith in God's goodness, mercy, and justice. He even studied the Kabbalah, a branch of Jewish mysticism. However, his experiences in the camp shatter his former image of God. After seeing children ruthlessly burned to death and people starved by the Nazi camp guards, Elie starts to doubt God's goodness and even God's existence, plunging him into what is often called a dark night of the soul.

Elie himself associates his sufferings with the night in the novel's most famous passage, which begins with the following sentence:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.

While Elie will ultimately survive the Holocaust, he will still carry memories of his spiritual darkness with him.

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In many ways, night comes to represent the evil that Elie is forced to face in his world.

While living in the ghetto, this image is used as a transition of mood. Consider the mood in this section:

A sunny spring day, people strolled seemingly carefree through the crowded streets. They exchanged cheerful greetings. Children played games, rolling hazelnuts on the sidewalks. Some schoolmates and I were in Ezra Malik's garden studying a Talmudic treatise.

The mood is light and there is a ray of hope in the interactions of the people, then that mood is cut with one very short sentence:

Night fell.

At this point, the mood changes and Elie's world quickly changes as well. Rumors begin to circulate; people become suspicious and fearful. Word quickly arrives to confirm their fears: they will soon be transported away from their home.

We see this image again as they are offered a place of hiding by their former maid:

My father wouldn't hear of it. He told me and my big sisters, "If you wish, go there. I shall stay here with your mother and the little one..."

Naturally, we refused to be separated.

Again, this offer of hope is followed by a very short sentence:


Because the family refused the offer of a place of hiding, the tentacles of evil creep ever closer to the family, and things will never be the same after they leave home. They will all face suffering that they cannot fathom at this point, and his baby sister and mother will be murdered at Auschwitz.

While in transport, a woman begins screaming about the flames of a fire, and everyone is immediately startled, looking for the fire she has seen:

Some pressed against the bars to see. There was nothing. Only the darkness of night.

Night presses in on them in transport, and they resort to beating the woman to try to keep her quiet, slipping into evil ways themselves in their fear and confusion. Yet the woman's screams prove eerily prophetic as they reach their destination:

Someone near a window read to us: "Auschwitz."

Nobody had ever heard that name.

Their journey through the night brings them to one of the most historically evil locations in history, and Elie will face further acts of horroras well as moments of deep introspection about the meaning of it allthrough many long nights which lie ahead of him at this point.

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The title of Elie Wiesel's book Night is no accident, as night is used symbolically throughout the story. Night, of course, is dark, and its use in this story is no accident' it represents the loss of innocence, the loss of life, and the loss of faith.

The most recognizable passage in this story occurs the night Elie arrives at the concentration camp.

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed....Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never. 

It is this night that changes everything for him, but many awful things in this story happen during a literal night. The night before their arrival at the camp, Mrs. Schächter spends the entire train ride warning about the very thing they all find when they arrive at Auschwitz, and now it has happened. When they hangings occur, the prisoners eat the soup that "tasted of corpses" at night. Elie's father dies and is taken away in the night. 

Elie loses his innocence in this dark night of his life. He will never again be a young man as he once was; even though his ordeal in the camp does not last much longer than a year, he leaves the camp as an old man in spirit, for he has lived too hard and seen too much. He has lost his innocence by having to live through such harsh and horrific realities.

He sees so much death in this story. While every death does not impact him personally--and in fact he naturally grows rather desensitized to it--the deaths he sees are horrid. Death in the camps is an inevitability, the constant presence in his life during this time, and it seems inescapable.

Perhaps the most devastating loss for Eie is his loss of faith. We learn in the beginning of the story that Elie is not just a practicing Jew but a young man of great faith, with a sensitivity to spiritual matters. As the story  progresses, we see Elie's faith be tested and then slowly diminish--and we can hardly blame him for it. Eventually, he is unable to pray, and we understand why.

Blessed be God's name? Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because he kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might, He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many other factories of death? How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, end up in the furnaces? Praised be Thy Holy Name, for having chosen us to be slaughtered on Thine altar?

To think that God does not love him is awful; to live through an experience that causes him to doubt God's promise to an entire group of people is crushing, and Elie is crushed. We know that he was a boy who prayed devoutly and with fervor; he grows into a boy who sees no reason to pray because he does not believe God will honor his prayers, if He is even listening to them. 

Just as the image of "night" is black, dark, bleak, and isolating, so is Elie's life in the concentration camp. We know that, though he is changed, Elie eventually recovers from this devastating experience and goes on to write another book entitled Dawn, symbolic of hope and a new day. 

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What do eyes represent in Night by Elie Wiesel?

The eyes in Night are a complex symbol that carries through from the beginning of the narrative when Moishe the Beadle talks about what he witnessed through to Elie's ending comment about the eyes that stare back at him from the mirror. What might be called the primary underlying element of the symbol is that the eyes are a witness.

Francois Mauriac, in his Forward, describes Beadle's efforts to tell what his eyes witnessed so as to warn the other inhabitants of Sighet. This symbolically equates eyes with a witness. While we all know an eye-witness must see a thing, the symbol isn't usually carried so far as to equate eyes with witness. Generally, the whole individual is the witness, whereas the eyes of those seeing the Holocaust are the witness, even if the individual cannot speak of it, cannot understand it, cannot live with the memory of it.

[the] pleas of a witness who, ... related to them what he has seen with his own eyes, but they refuse to believe him ....

The second part of the symbol is that the eyes reveal what the human is. Wiesel first wrote Night in Yiddish. In the Preface to the new translation of the English version of Night, Wiesel quotes a portion of the Yiddish original. The quote explains that in the eyes of each Jewish person resides the image of God. It is, therefore, the image of God the eyes reveal:

We believed in God, trusted in man, and lived with the illusion that everyone of us has been entrusted with a sacred spark from the Shekhinah's flame; that every one of us carries in his eyes and in his soul a reflection of God's image.

The symbol carries another level: the eyes see God reflected (they both show forth God's image and see God reflected from other humans). Elie relates that when the camp witnessed the hanging of a child, a man in the crowd moaned and asked, "Where is God?" while a silent voice inside Elie formed an answer, saying that God was hanging with the child:

"For God's sake, where is God?"
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
"Where He is? This is where--hanging here from this gallows."

The child--with the image of God in his eyes and God reflected from those eyes to others--hung, with God--both on the gallows--while "tears, like drops of wax, flowed from [the child's] eyes."

This complex symbol establishes the eyes as a witness, as the image of God, as the reflection of God, as the tears and lost joy of God, while also being the tears and lost joy of the Jewish people: "the joy in his eyes was gone." Remembering that, for Wiesel, God hung with the child, the complexity of this symbol is confirmed with Wiesel's closing comment about his own eyes:

From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.

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