Night Themes

The main themes in Night are god, religion, death, and dehumanization.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dehumanization: Nazis slaughtered millions of people with dispassionate brutality. However, their dehumanization of those they deemed undesirable demonstrates the essential inhumanity of the Nazi regime.

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(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

"Someone began to recite the Khaddish, the prayer for the dead. I do not know if it has ever happened before, in the long history of the Jews, that people have ever recited the prayer for the dead for themselves."

This moment of prayer comes right after arriving at Auschwitz—"Haven't you heard about it?''—when the group is being marched "to the crematory." They will not be killed (not yet), but the terror this welcome march inflicts serves to instill despondency, melancholia, and separation of the prisoners from each other. The Germans knew this, they knew that their prisoners could not have empathy: the faster the prisoners live for themselves alone, the faster they die together. Eliezer grasps the message of their first walk, saying, "[h]umanity is not concerned with us." There is no one to witness their death and no one to mourn them with the right prayer except themselves. Later, when Akiba Drumer is selected for death, he asks them to recite the Khaddish for him—they forget to do so because they are preoccupied with survival.

Death is a pervasive element in a story about death camps. Death is fundamental to human society—anthropologists cite burial practices as the foundation of civilization. The Nazi "slaughterhouses" and "factories of death" are antithetical to this civilized practice of death; the Final Solution is an absolute mockery of human rights and values. The effect of this madness on persons normally a part of a culture organized around a detailed belief system is a breakdown of their social compact with each other and a fall into melancholia. The incapacitating effect of the melancholia each prisoner had—worrying only about himself—lead to the utterly gross situations of a son killing a father for a bite of bread. Finally, it is within this breakdown of empathy among the people in the camps which makes the moment of Chlomo's final gasp—his son's name—and Juliek's swan song possibly beautiful but most likely pathetic to those hearing it.

Throughout the story, men, like Reizel, say they live only because they believe their children may still be alive. Eliezer admits several times that a similar relationship exists between himself and his father. Empathy and the human need of community in the face of death, so as to mourn properly, must be put back together afterward. This is why the stories of the camps must be told and not silenced. Only madness remains if mourning occurs without empathy—only the ghastly and solitary image of one survivor seeing himself in the mirror remains. The survivors must mourn with other survivors—"let's keep together. We shall be stronger"—if they are to escape the madness of the camps and the memory.

God and Religion
The community of faith to which Eliezer belongs is Hasidic. This is a sect of Judaism that came into being during the eighteenth century, and its precepts have considerable bearing upon the events of the novel. Hasidism teaches belief in a personal relationship with God. In such a system, awe of God combines with emotion toward God. One can protest, love, fear, and question God without compromising God or contradicting faith. One of Wiesel's favorite prayers may serve as a summary: "Master of the Universe, know that the children of Israel are suffering too much; they deserve...

(The entire section is 1,177 words.)