Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 851
The narrator, a young Jewish man, born in New York City in 1949 and living in a Hasidic section of Brooklyn. Reared and educated as an Orthodox Jew, he was silent and often gloomy as a young child. Later, during adolescence, as he studies to become a writer and teacher, he sets out on a quest to uncover the inaccessible mysteries of his father’s painful experiences in Germany during the 1940’s. The narrator deeply loves his father, considering him the most important influence in his life. Since childhood, the narrator has felt cut off from his father’s thoughts; he has ached to share the older man’s wisdom and pain. In his quest, however, he is able to learn of his father’s past from the latter’s notes, written to his dead firstborn son, and from the discourses of his father’s two old friends.
Reuven Tamiroff, the father of the narrator, a librarian living in Brooklyn, New York. After surviving World War II in Davarowsk, Germany, along with his wife, Reuven settled into a quiet life of books and scholarship on his beloved philosopher, Paritus. When his wife’s mental breakdown in the mid-1950’s forces her to live in a hospital, Reuven rears his son, the narrator, alone, showing him love and attention, taking him nearly everywhere he goes, and allowing him to visit with the one old friend who visits their home. He cannot speak of his past; the secrets of his life in the ghetto and the concentration camps are so terrible that they cannot be put into speech. To help overcome his grief, he writes loving letters to his dead six-year-old son, who was murdered by the Angel, a Nazi officer in Germany.
Simha-the-Dark, the only close friend of Reuven, both in Germany and, later, in Brooklyn. A clever metaphysical man who earns his comfortable living as a merchant “selling shadows,” Simha meets with Reuven on the last Thursday of each month to argue philosophical issues. The issue that most occupies the two men is the justification of acts of vengeance against acknowledged enemies. This subject looms over all other problems for them because of their own vengeful assassination of the Angel in 1946, which, twenty years later, they discover to have been unsuccessful. Even with his troubled past, Simha is able to live according to Jewish law, which requires that each person live in joy, although that joy may be incomplete. He pleases those around him with mesmerizing anecdotes illustrating his quiet wisdom.
The Angel, Richard Lander, the military governor of the ghetto and town of Davarowsk, Germany, during World War II. A mediocre actor, Lander speaks with a false and cruel kindness, apparently enjoying the duplicity of creating trust in the Jews of the ghetto, only to annihilate them later at his whim. He survives the bomb attack by Reuven and Simha but, twenty years later, is confronted by the narrator and must exist knowing that his identity has been discovered.
Lisa Schreiber, the young woman the narrator meets at City College and whom he comes to love. Vibrant and popular, she is attracted to the shy narrator and invites him to spend the evening with her. Her father is a well-to-do banker, and Lisa has an independence that allows her to help the narrator in many ways in his quest for the Angel. She charms Reuven, and, although she and the narrator separate during their adult lives, she is the love of the narrator’s young life.
Ariel, the brother of the narrator, born eleven years before him in Germany. He is executed by the Angel at the age of six; however, Reuven continues to write him letters years after his death. He was a beautiful, strong, and brilliant child hunted down and killed specifically to punish Reuven, the leader of the Jews in the ghetto.
Rachel Tamiroff, the mentally disabled and hospitalized mother of the narrator. When the narrator was six years old, she lost her sanity (she said that she was “missing something”) and has spent the remainder of her life in a hospital in upstate New York. The narrator recalls her anguish and her solemn beauty, but not until he is a young man does he learn that his brother Ariel was also six years old when he was murdered by the Angel.
Bontchek, another friend who experienced the Holocaust with Reuven. He did not participate in the attempted murder of the Angel. An oversized man, he meets Reuven by accident in the New York Public Library, where Reuven works, after a separation extending back to the end of the war in Germany. He often meets with the narrator, taking him to the theater and concerts and explaining the mysteries of his father’s life. Even though he has had an intimate friendship with Reuven and Simha, he is not invited to the Thursday evening discussions. Only later is it revealed that this is because he did not participate in the assassination attempt on the Angel.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 157
Sources for Further Study
Abrahamson, Irving, ed. Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel. 3 vols. New York: Holocaust Library, 1985.
Brown, Robert McAfee. Elie Wiesel: Messenger to All Humanity. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.
Drainie, Bronwyn. “The Guilt of the Next Generation.” Toronto Globe and Mail, April 20, 1985, p. E17.
Fine, Ellen S. Legacy of “Night”: The Literary Universe of Elie Wiesel. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982.
Kolbert, Jack. The Worlds of Elie Wiesel: An Overview of His Career and His Major Themes. Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 2001.
Mano, D. Keith. “An Omen or Three.” The National Review 37 (July 12, 1985): 57-59.
Morton, Frederic. “Execution as an Act of Intimacy.” The New York Times Book Review, March 24, 1985, p. 8.
Rosen, Alan, ed. Celebrating Elie Wiesel: Stories, Essays, Reflections. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998.
Wiesel, Elie, and Richard D. Heffner. Conversations with Elie Wiesel. Edited by Thomas J. Vinciguerra. New York: Schocken Books, 2001.