Elie Wiesel Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Since the appearance in 1956 of Un di Velt hot geshvign (in French as La Nuit, 1958; Night, 1960), Elie Wiesel (vee-ZEHL) has published many works of fiction and nonfiction. Among these are Les Juifs du silence(1966; The Jews of Silence, 1966), a personal testimony of his trip to Russia; Le Chant des morts (1966; Legends of Our Time, 1968), Entre deux soleils (1970; One Generation After, 1970), and Un Juif aujourd’hui (1977; A Jew Today, 1978), collections of essays and short stories; several volumes of biblical portraits and Hasidic tales; the plays Zalmen: Ou, La Folie de Dieu (pb. 1968; Zalmen: Or, The Madness of God, 1974) and Le Procès de Shamgorod tel qu’il se déroula le 25 février 1649 (pb. 1979; The Trial of God: As It Was Held on February 25, 1649, in Shamgorod, 1979); and a cantata, Ani Maamin: Un Chant perdu et retrouvé (1973; Ani Maamin: A Song Lost and Found Again, 1973). Some of his later works, the biblical portraits and Hasidic tales, although written in French, were originally published in the English translation by his wife, Marion Wiesel.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Elie Wiesel is one of the most important figures in the genre known as “the literature of the Holocaust.” He brings to literature a new literary vocabulary, rooted in the Bible, that is at once mystical, legalistic, theological, and historical. As a survivor of the Holocaust, Wiesel considers himself to be a messenger from the dead to the living, and, as a witness, he bears testimony both to the unfathomable events of the death camps and to the current, unfolding history of his people. Wiesel’s work, parochial in context, is universal in perception. It speaks to all humankind, for all participated, either actively or silently, in the supreme trial of their humanity. He views the Holocaust as touching upon every facet of one’s life and interests, and he perceives humanity’s major problem to be survival in the post-Holocaust world.

As a writer, Wiesel is preoccupied with the inadequacy of language, but not in the abstract manner of many contemporary writers. Language affirms a belief in humankind and attests its grandeur. The Holocaust negates humanity. It represents a misuse of language; the failure of imagination; the rule of the depraved; the suspension of the senses, of beliefs, of time; the inversion of order. To capture the Holocaust in language is to impose upon it a decorum that in itself is a betrayal of those victimized by this satanic maelstrom. Wiesel believed, when he began to write, that the tale nevertheless must be told, because the murderer murders not only his victim but also himself. He says, “At Auschwitz, not only man died, but also the idea of man.” Awareness of the Holocaust may save the world from self-obliteration.

Wiesel raises questions that are unanswerable, questions intended to arouse the consciousness of a people, the progeny of the indifferent observers of the decade of the 1940’s. He also vies with God, not as a defiant disbeliever but as a believer in the biblical tradition of the prophets who have challenged God, remonstrated with him, and protested heavenly decrees. There is no gaiety in Wiesel’s works. There is laughter, but it is not a joyous laughter. It is the laughter of a madman defying his creator. Writers, theologians, and humanists of all faiths have...

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

How has the Holocaust affected Elie Wiesel’s life and his writing?

Why does Wiesel value friendship so much?

How would you describe Wiesel’s views about and relationship to God?

Why does Wiesel think questions are so important? Which questions seem most important to him, and why might that be the case?

Wiesel has been an important defender of human rights. Which rights do you think are most important to him?

Wiesel is opposed to indifference and neutrality. Why do you think he holds those positions?

Why does Wiesel think that the words “and yet . . . and yet” are among the most important in his vocabulary?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Abramowitz, Molly, comp. Elie Wiesel: A Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1974. Dated but still valuable annotated bibliography of works by and about Wiesel.

Berenbaum, Michael. Elie Wiesel: God, the Holocaust, and the Children of Israel. West Orange, N.J.: Behrman House, 1994. This reprint of The Vision of the Void, Berenbaum’s thoughtful 1979 study of Elie Wiesel, emphasizes Wiesel’s insights about Jewish tradition.

Berenbaum, Michael. The Vision of the Void: Theological Reflections on the Works of Elie Wiesel. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1979. Although discussing works published before 1979, this is an excellent study of the Jewish tradition as evident in Wiesel’s religious writings and sociocultural position. The bibliography on theological philosophy is quite useful.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Elie Wiesel’s “Night.” New York: Chelsea House, 2001. A collection of critical essays representing the spectrum of response to Wiesel’s memoir.

Brown, Robert McAfee. Elie Wiesel: Messenger to All Humanity. Rev. ed. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989. A leading Christian theologian provides an important overview and interpretation of Wiesel’s multifaceted writing.

Cargas, Harry James. Conversations with Elie Wiesel. South Bend, Ind.: Justice Books, 1992. An updated and expanded edition of Cargas’s 1976 interviews with Wiesel, this important book features Wiesel speaking not only about the Holocaust but also about his audience, craft, and mission as a witness and writer.

Estess, Ted L. Elie Wiesel. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Despite its brevity,...

(The entire section is 765 words.)