Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 773
The predominant theme in The Accident is death: the protagonist is a messenger from the dead to the living. Part of him has died during the Holocaust, and he currently experiences a living death. He neglects to evade a speeding car because he yearns for death. Wiesel implies that for some Holocaust survivors, death serves as an escape if they can no longer handle the guilt of surviving while their loved ones and friends perished before their eyes. Death becomes the preoccupation of many characters. Gyula, for instance, demands that the narrator refrain from dying until he has painted his portrait. Gyula remarks, "Don't die before I've finished your portrait, do you hear? Afterwards, I don't give a darn! But not before! Understood?"
Writing an essay?
Get a custom outline
Our Essay Lab can help you tackle any essay assignment within seconds, whether you’re studying Macbeth or the American Revolution. Try it today!
All the characters in Wiesel's novel have a story to tell regarding death. Gyula almost drowned in the ocean; he implies that it was an attempted suicide. He went out too far into the water and gave up, allowing himself to sink: "There was no fear in me. I knew that I was dying, but I remained calm. A strangely sweet serenity came over me, I thought: at last I'll know what a drowning man thinks about. That was my last thought. I lost consciousness." However, as was the case during the Holocaust, he escaped death. This time a young swimmer rescued him— even though he did not want her to do so. In fact, after he regained consciousness, he quickly cursed the woman for rescuing him, preventing him from dying.
Kathleen is fascinated by death and falls in love with the narrator partly because he has seen so much death and is experiencing a living death. Even Sarah is deadened, no longer herself. She sees a look of death in the narrator at a Paris cafe and therefore brings him to her room to make love. She is a nymphomaniac, yet she is also lifeless. Because the German soldiers repeatedly raped her starting when she was twelve years old, she has lost her will to live. Her life has no meaning. The countless violations of her body have dehumanized her, rendering her a mere object rather than a human being. She laments her sad existence and would willingly escape from it. The German soldier who took away her virginity says that the sexual encounter is a birthday present for him. But the day of the Nazi's birth becomes the first day of a continuing death for her. The atrocities that she has endured have obviously scarred her for life, rendering her unable to have stable relationships. She believes, for instance, that all men disdain sex with women, only desiring intercourse with twelve-year-old girls. Her mental instability, like that of Eliezer, the narrator, causes her to endure a living death. As the narrator remarks, "I think of her and I curse myself, as I curse history which has made us what we are: a source of malediction. History which deserves death, destruction. Whoever listens to Sarah and doesn't change, whoever enters Sarah's world and doesn't invent new gods and new religions, deserves death and destruction." The novelist implies that history itself must die.
The novel is nihilistic. Can God exist if something this awful happens to Sarah? Where was God when all this took place? If God is omnipotent and omnipresent, how could he have allowed Sarah to suffer so much? It is noteworthy that Sarah is not only the name of the narrator's mother, but also of the mother of the Jewish people. Wiesel implies, therefore, that God has allowed all of the Jewish people to suffer greatly. Gyula, whose name means "redemption," hopes to redeem the life of Eliezer. Gyula, who himself has metaphorically returned several times from the dead, intends to convince the narrator to live rather than die by showing him the importance of forgetting the past and living for the present. He paints the portrait of the narrator, which symbolizes the past, and then proceeds to burn it—indicating that Eliezer must put the past behind him. However, the ashes remain, suggesting that it will be impossible for the narrator to do so.
Through his characterization of Sarah, Wiesel addresses the irony that the Nazis persecuted Jews because they considered them to be grossly inferior, almost subhuman, yet when they wished to satisfy their sexual desires, they could not ignore their attraction to Jewish women. By engaging in sex with Jews, they symbolically acknowledged that the Jews were by no means inferior beings. Therefore, the forced employment of Jewish prostitutes symbolically acknowledged that the persecution was based on economic and propagandistic, rather than racial, issues.