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Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel (1984), Irving Abrahamson asserts that Night is not merely the first work by Wiesel. Indeed, it is the center of all that follows: Night contains all the haunting issues permeating Wiesel’s later works. Wiesel has spoken of Night as surrounded concentrically by his later books. Although Night is his only effort exclusively concerned with the Holocaust, the universe of the concentration camp is central to all of his work.

Lawrence Langer, in Versions of Survival: The Holocaust and the Human Spirit (1982), has argued that language to describe annihilation has yet to be devised. Literary categories that sufficed as intellectual frameworks prior to Auschwitz no longer apply. Most historians, theologians, and critics believe that Auschwitz has generated a unique class of writers. If so, the attendant literature of atrocity is operating in uncharted intellectual and moral terrain. Nevertheless, Night’s extraordinary power cannot be denied. All the forces that operated within the Holocaust— perpetrators, victims, bystanders—are represented in this slim volume under the scrutiny of a keenly perceptive narrator who sees these forces within the framework of a kind of receding universe. He gives no assurances about what will replace this world.

Wiesel’s Night records this destruction of the old order—the inherited past, faith in humanity, belief in the God of the covenant with Abraham and the God of Sinai—and questions the implied nature of the emerging new order based on totalitarian misrule, the industrialized debasement of humanity, and the worthlessness of women, the elderly, and innocent children. A few critics found parts of Night steeped in bathos or mawkishness, but such negative views were extremely rare. Wiesel was not writing from the narrative perspective...

(The entire section is 446 words.)