Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541
The Accident is the third part of a trilogy that begins with Night. Originally titled Le Jour (the day), it comes after L’Aube (1960; Dawn, 1961), a novel in which Wiesel explores the ambiguous legacy of Night by describing how Elisha, another young Holocaust survivor, confronts the uneasy responsibility of killing to help establish a post-Holocaust homeland for Jews in Israel. The setting for The Accident is very different, but this novel also probes Holocaust survival and finds its meaning unsettled and unsettling. Both Night and Dawn reveal that the swords of politics and history cut many ways. Once one has experienced that kind of destruction, The Accident asks whether life is worth living at all.
His present and future overwhelmed by what he has witnessed in the past, Eliezer doubts that he can endure his Holocaust survival. The world will not be changed, it seems, and the dead cannot be brought back to life. Nevertheless, they haunt the living too much, creating feelings of guilt, frustration, anger, and rebellion that make joy and happiness all but impossible. In spite of the fact that he has friends and even a woman who loves him, the young man’s life is “the tragic fate of those who came back, left over, living-dead.” Thus, not only because he feels that “I am my past,” but also because he knows that his inability to move beyond makes others suffer, Eliezer senses that life will force him to lie in ways that he has neither the desire nor the strength to sustain.
Not feeling well, exhausted by the heat and a reporting job that seems of no consequence, Eliezer still manages to keep his date with Kathleen. They decide on a film, The Brothers Karamazov. Then, crossing a busy New York street, the young man is struck and dragged by a car: Le Jour, rendered in English, becomes The Accident. “On the fifth day I at last regained consciousness,” Eliezer reports. “I felt alone, abandoned. . . . That I was still alive had left me indifferent, or nearly so.”
Hope dawns in the “nearly so.” Undeniably, the discovery that he can still speak sparks a choice for life, however faint, that cannot be hidden. Then, nurtured by friends, continuing under the care of a doctor who takes death as his personal enemy, life returns to be chosen again, although not without memory of the Holocaust’s ashes. Eliezer is alive in the hospital at the end of The Accident, and the reader does not know entirely what will become of him. This much, however, is clear: He has decided to tell his story, to share it with others, and in that action a rejection of death and an affirmation of life can be found.
In a 1985 preface to this novel, Wiesel acknowledged that The Accident’s protagonist “has lived through some of my experiences, but I have not lived through his.” To that remark Wiesel added a suggestion: “[I]n the end, all works of literature, even despairing ones, constitute an appeal to life.” Thus, it is also noteworthy that this novel is dedicated to Paul Braunstein, the skilled physician who restored Wiesel’s health after the accident that nearly took the life that Wiesel finds so important.