The main themes in Night are death, God and religion, and sanity and insanity.
- Death: The death camps represent a perversion of the social, cultural, and religious significance of death. Rather than treating death with dignity and allowing proper time for mourning, the death camps force people to focus solely on their own survival.
- God and Religion: Night tells the story of Elie’s changing relationship with God and religion as he struggles to make sense of the horror of the Holocaust.
- Sanity and insanity: Madame Schacter and Idek the Kapo serve as examples of the madness of the Holocaust.
Last Updated March 29, 2023.
Simply because of his faith and ancestry, Eliezer is forced to endure unfathomable suffering. He finds himself isolated from the eyes of the world and without any real hope that humanity will rise up and come to his aid. While imprisoned, he witnesses the murder of those who dare to cross the Nazi regime; recounting one particularly haunting memory, he describes the agonizing death of a young child who slowly suffocates while Eliezer and the other prisoners are forced to watch.
Eliezer and his father are stripped of their humanity, forced to endure physical inspections while naked, and constantly uncertain if they will be able to prove themselves worthy of the forced labor camps. From the moment they arrive in the camps, the smell of burning flesh rising from the nearby crematoriums is a tangible, omnipresent threat. Watching the smoke as it twines through the camp, they are constantly reminded of the precariousness of their position, an ever-present fear that the Nazis use to further torment those imprisoned.
Throughout the narrative, human life is routinely extinguished because of ability, gender, age, and for purposes of “medical” experimentation. Those who are imprisoned die from disease, starvation, a bitterly cold environment, hopelessness, and extreme mistreatment. Throughout the narrative, Eliezer describes the abject depths of human suffering, yet throughout it all, the SS guards who keep them imprisoned remain indifferent to the widespread anguish they so readily facilitate.
The Strength of Family
After he is separated from his mother and sisters, Eliezer commits himself to being a dependable and steadfast son to his father. The two work together, sharing their meager food rations when one of them is particularly weak and finding ways to remain together when so many families are separated. When Eliezer witnesses other sons abandoning their fathers to improve their own circumstances, he becomes resolute in his desire to remain faithful. He fervently prays for God to give him the strength to never do what those sons have done.
During one excruciatingly difficult march, Eliezer wants to give up and just “slide to the side of the road” where he can die; when he looks at his exhausted father forging resolutely on, Eliezer finds the determination to continue marching, believing that he has “no right to let himself die” and leave his already-weak father alone. When his father feels that he simply “can’t go on” because he is getting too weak, Eliezer remains by his father’s side, trying to navigate his medical care as best as possible with limited resources.
Unable to locate medical treatment, Eliezer attempts to relieve his father’s extreme thirst by locating water; he is tormented by his father’s desperation for relief, which conflicts with the medical reality that water will only create further physical discomfort. Together, Eliezer and his father face unfathomable challenges and endure relentless abuse; however, the bond they share and their commitment to helping each other survive bring glimpses of humanity and tenderness into their bleak existence. Their devotion to each other offers a sense of hope and encourages them in their efforts to survive multiple rounds of selection, abuse, and mental anguish.
Faith and Doubt
When Eliezer is thirteen, he is committed to his faith, studying the Talmud during the day and crying at the synagogue each night. He locates a mentor to guide him through what he believes, based on his limited life experience, to be some of the more challenging questions of Judaism. When Moishe the Beadle asks young Eliezer why he prays, Eliezer considers it a “strange question” because he’s never really considered it before. Because of...
(This entire section contains 804 words.)
the cruelty and inhumanity he experiences while imprisoned, Eliezer begins to question the God he has always believed in.
As he witnesses his fellow prisoners turned into smoke “under a silent sky,” he believes that those same flames have “consumed his faith forever.” After witnessing the execution of a young child, Eliezer’s faith is again shaken as he reflects that God must also be “hanging…from [the] gallows.” On Yom Kippur, Eliezer chooses not to fast, as tradition would indicate, because he refuses to accept the “silence” from a God who would allow such suffering. Even Akiba Drumer, who attempts to encourage the prisoners to be steadfast in their faith, eventually proclaims that “it’s over” because “God is no longer with [them].”
The horrors Eliezer witnesses and endures while imprisoned force him to examine the foundation of his beliefs. Instead of finding comfort in faith, Eliezer is angered by the apparent absence of God within the concentration camps. Because he develops such anger toward God during his imprisonment, there is a sense that young Eliezer has not completely lost faith that God exists but is instead questioning the nature of the God he has always believed in.