In Night, what influences the soup's taste after the first and second hangings?

Quick answer:

In Night, the soup tastes better after the first hanging because Elie is still alive. He can return to the bunks and eat. The actual taste does not matter. What matters is that he has survived another day. The prisoners have become inured to death because it surrounds them. The second hanging is different. A young boy beloved by the camp is hanged. It is too much. Elie cannot get the image out of his head as he eats.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Night, what makes the soup taste better than ever after the first hanging is that Elie and the others are still alive. They are allowed to return to their bunks and eat their daily ration of watered down soup. The actual taste does not matter. What matters in this scene is that they have survived another day. This scene also shows how inured the prisoners have become to death because it is all around them. If they were to stop and mourn each death that they witness, none of them would be able to go on. None of them would survive the camps.

At the first hanging, Elie’s friend leans in to Elie and whispers, asking if the hanging be done soon because he is hungry. It is clear that Elie is moved by the hanging and the bravery of the young victim who refuses the blindfold and shouts out in “a strong and calm voice,”

"Long live liberty! My curse on Germany!”

However, Elie's physical needs are great. He can eat the soup, and the poor youth who was just hanged can no longer eat his. The needs of the prisoners’ starving bodies have taken precedence over the needs of their starving souls.

The second hanging is different. Three people, including a young boy who was beloved by the camp, are hanged. Elie cannot escape his thoughts over the violence of this event because it is too much. Despite how jaded he and the other prisoners have become to the everyday violence, he cannot get the image of the “the little pipel, the sad-eyed angel” out of his head as he eats his soup.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The consumption of soup in this particular portion of the narrative is powerful.  It is a good detailing of how the true horror of the Holocaust was its dehumanization.  In the first instance of eating the soup, there is a hunger that the soup satisfies.  Eliezer makes clear that the abuse and torment he and others in Buna endure is what moves them into a realm where they simply wish to survive.  Survival involves food and nourishment whenever one can get it.  While they are made to look at the hangings of those who were part of resistance against the Nazis, the fact they are able to eat is what compels them to not be bothered by its implications. The soup tastes so good despite the fact that the prisoners are forced to look at death by hanging in the eye. They have become so densitized to the deaths of others that survival outranks all.  The need to survive at all costs and the fact that death is a constant reality for them have constructed a condition of being in which living for another day, even when others don't, is the most important element.  It is for this reason that the "soup tasted better than ever."

However, there was something about the hanging of the child that impacts Eliezer.  Even though the situation is really no different than the first hanging, the reality is that the hanging of a child is a new low, even for the Nazis.  Eliezer points this out, making it fundamentally different from other hangings:  "To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows." The image of this little child, described as "the sad- eyed angel," being sentenced to hanging and then his tiny neck being so small that it could not sufficiently fit in the noose so that his death took an extra thirty minutes was something that stuck in Eliezer's mind:  

But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.

Eliezer has now had to witness, and thus be a party to, the death of a child.  There can be little in way of removing sensitivity to this event.  The visceral nature of the last moments of the child's life are too powerful for Eliezer to ignore.  While there have been atrocities, this particular one fuses itself onto Eliezer's mind and psyche.  At the same time, the fundamental question of where God is in such a moment haunts Eliezer.  When Eliezer hears the old man ask "For God's sake, where is God," Eliezer is forced to answer, "Here He is—He is hanging on this gallows.”  This absence of God and the murder of God at the hands of human beings creates profound metaphysical and existential implications which are seen from this point.  At one point in time, Eliezer cried to find a spiritual mentor who would bring him closer to God.  The Holocaust has become the sum total of those tears.  For the physical sight and the spiritual deadening it brings, Eliezer cannot overcome the soup tasting of "corpses."  

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial