In Night, what makes the "soup taste excellent" after the first hanging? What makes the "soup taste like corpses" after the second hanging? 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The consumption of soup in this particular portion of the narrative is powerful.  It is a good detailing of how the true horror of the Holocaust was its dehumanization.  In the first instance of eating the soup, there is a hunger that the soup satisfies.  Eliezer makes clear that the abuse and torment he and others in Buna endure is what moves them into a realm where they simply wish to survive.  Survival involves food and nourishment whenever one can get it.  While they are made to look at the hangings of those who were part of resistance against the Nazis, the fact they are able to eat is what compels them to not be bothered by its implications. The soup tastes so good despite the fact that the prisoners are forced to look at death by hanging in the eye. They have become so densitized to the deaths of others that survival outranks all.  The need to survive at all costs and the fact that death is a constant reality for them have constructed a condition of being in which living for another day, even when others don't, is the most important element.  It is for this reason that the "soup tasted better than ever."

However, there was something about the hanging of the child that impacts Eliezer.  Even though the situation is really no different than the first hanging, the reality is that the hanging of a child is a new low, even for the Nazis.  Eliezer points this out, making it fundamentally different from other hangings:  "To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows." The image of this little child, described as "the sad- eyed angel," being sentenced to hanging and then his tiny neck being so small that it could not sufficiently fit in the noose so that his death took an extra thirty minutes was something that stuck in Eliezer's mind:  

But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.

Eliezer has now had to witness, and thus be a party to, the death of a child.  There can be little in way of removing sensitivity to this event.  The visceral nature of the last moments of the child's life are too powerful for Eliezer to ignore.  While there have been atrocities, this particular one fuses itself onto Eliezer's mind and psyche.  At the same time, the fundamental question of where God is in such a moment haunts Eliezer.  When Eliezer hears the old man ask "For God's sake, where is God," Eliezer is forced to answer, "Here He is—He is hanging on this gallows.”  This absence of God and the murder of God at the hands of human beings creates profound metaphysical and existential implications which are seen from this point.  At one point in time, Eliezer cried to find a spiritual mentor who would bring him closer to God.  The Holocaust has become the sum total of those tears.  For the physical sight and the spiritual deadening it brings, Eliezer cannot overcome the soup tasting of "corpses."