What is Elie Wiesel trying to communicate about “the rebel’s mindset” in Night?

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In Night, author Elie Wiesel writes of his experiences in the death camps during World War II, giving testimony to the horrors prisoners endured. Wiesel tries to communicate that even in this evil place, people can retain some elements of their humanity and rebel in various ways, whether the ways are small or large. Even in this inhuman setting, Wiesel and others find small ways to rebel against their cruel treatment, sometimes against God and against their fate.

For instance, Wiesel begins to rebel against God. He says, “Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves?” Upon first entering Auschwitz, he writes,

For the first time, I felt anger rising within me. Why should I sanctify His name? The Almighty, the eternal and terrible Master of the Universe, chose to be silent. What was there to thank Him for? ... Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.

Elie also rebels against God when he decides not to fast on Yom Kippur and therefore uses this small act as a symbol of rebellion. He notes, “There was no longer any reason for me to fast ... As I swallowed my ration of soup, I turned that act into a symbol of rebellion, of protest against Him.”

Perhaps it is easier to rebel against God, but there are small ways in which the prisoners rebel against their captors or even against other cruel prisoners. For instance, when another prisoner strikes Wiesel’s father, Elie writes:

All I could think was: I shall never forgive them for this. My father must have guessed my thoughts, because he whispered in my ear: "It doesn't hurt." His cheek still bore the red mark of the hand.

This is a small act of rebellion by a father who does not want to frighten his son or have his son retaliate against the other prisoner. Elie also provides other examples of rebellion in the death camp. For instance, three people are condemned to death by hanging because the Nazis suspect that they sabotaged a power plant. In fact, sabotage would be a major act of rebellion. Even facing death, they are courageous and rebellious. Wiesel writes:

The three condemned prisoners together stepped onto the chairs. In unison, the nooses were placed around their necks.

"Long live liberty!" shouted the two men.

Elie also tells the story of the French girl who helps him after he receives a brutal beating, despite her fear. She also cautions him not to rebel now but to hold on to his anger and use it later.

I dragged myself to my corner. I was aching all over. I felt a cool hand wiping the blood from my forehead. It was the French girl. She was smiling her mournful smile as she slipped me a crust of bread. She looked straight into my eyes. I knew she wanted to talk to me but that she was paralyzed with fear. She remained like that for some time, and then her face lit up and she said, in almost perfect German:

"Bite your lips, little brother ... Don't cry. Keep your anger, your hate, for another day, for later. The day will come but not now ... Wait. Clench your teeth and wait ..."

We know from historical sources that there were documented uprisings or planned uprisings in the camps. However, Wiesel is saying that even in small ways—such as maintaining their humanity, retaining some small semblance of independence or kindness or even holding on to memories for a later date—people can achieve some of the rebel’s mindset.

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