A Beggar in Jerusalem Themes
by Elie Wiesel

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A Beggar in Jerusalem Themes

The themes of Elie Wiesel's novel, A Beggar in Jerusalem, are bound up in a story of survival. The book is a retelling of the Six Day War from the points of view of two soldiers, David and his compatriot. It's also a retelling of Jewish history, which is nothing if not a story of survival. The novel is excellent, and you should read it. You should also check out the study guide available on this website. I highly recommend both.

The mendicants and madmen of the story are emblematic of the themes, and of the purpose, of the novel. They're not only truth-tellers but also survivors. They're Israel's outcasts, people ignored or marginalized, sometimes violently so, who have made it far enough through their personal troubles to pitch up at the Western Wall of the Second Temple, the holiest piece of ground in Judaism. Do you see the parallels to Jewish history itself? The fact that they're present in the story for the purpose of truth-telling, and that they're present at the site of the ruined Temple, where every pious Jew wishes to be "next year," is Wiesel's way of making his meditation on love and loss and deliverance real. The story of the Israelites is a story of devotion to God and of the tribulations of that relationship. Loss is a central theme of that story, as is the hope of reclaiming their promised land.

Smaller themes support this grand narrative, lifted out of the story and reinterpreted for the present like Midrashim. Where is home? What good is time without a place in which to spend it? Can a people who don't know themselves ever be settled? These questions don't appear in the text, but readers will ask them of themselves.

In general, the themes of Wiesel's novel point to victory for the Jews. The Israelites were victorious, in the sense that they achieved statehood, which fulfilled their Covenant with God. Israel was victorious in the Six Day War, in the sense that they achieved deliverance from their enemies. David was victorious, in the sense that he survived the Holocaust and arrived at the Western Wall to hear the truth about himself and his people, and to retell it to us through Elie Wiesel's novel.

Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Wiesel has written many novels, many stories, but they all concern one story, the dominant story of the twentieth century: the Holocaust. A survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, Wiesel has dedicated himself to being a witness, saying, “I knew that anyone who remained alive had to become a storyteller, a messenger, had to speak up.” Some of the most powerful scenes in the book deal directly with the Nazis’ extermination of the Jews of Europe: the machine-gunning of a small Jewish community; David’s narrow escape from a French mob that then turns its fury on the gentile woman who has saved his life.

Even the saga of David and Katriel, set in 1967, is in fact about the Holocaust. The pact that David and Katriel make is the same Wiesel made with his mother and sister, who were gassed at Auschwitz, with his father, whom he watched die at Buchenwald, and with six million of his...

(The entire section is 808 words.)