Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Elie Wiesel was born and reared in an Orthodox Jewish community in a village in Transylvania. In 1944, he and his family were deported to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Although Wiesel survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, his father, mother, and younger sister did not. Liberated in 1945, he chose to go to France. In 1958, he published a memoir of the Holocaust, La Nuit (1958; Night, 1960), sometimes described as a novella, although Wiesel himself has said that it is not a work of fiction. Since that time, Wiesel has published more than two dozen books, both fiction and nonfiction, all of which directly or indirectly reflect on the Holocaust. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Wiesel’s preoccupation with the Holocaust and its meaning for humanity gives his work an exceptional intensity and unity. The theme of silence, for example, so central to The Oath, is prominent throughout Wiesel’s work. In particular, his earlier novel La Ville de la chance (1962; The Town Beyond the Wall, 1964) should be read with The Oath. Both books, while acknowledging the claims of silence, ultimately affirm the responsibility to speak.

Also noteworthy in The Oath is the role of Moshe, a recurring character in Wiesel’s works. Mystic and madman, he represents an essential dimension of human experience—one which needs to be balanced by rational discourse but which, if repressed, will resurface in a destructive form.