When I first chose to read Night I was a little worried it’d be too similar to the many other books on WWII I’d read this year (I read three books during the summer and we’ve read three for this class). But it has proved to be a unique and different view of the tragedy. I love the way Wiesel weaves nuanced themes and metaphors into every chapter. He does this with the idea of optimism, the constant losses, and more. But he especially uses this tactic with the word “Night.” At the very start of the book, night is cleverly established as a symbol of Jewish suffering when Wiesel says, “by night I would run to the synagogue to weep over the destruction of the Temple,” (3). This symbol is used throughout the book any time a bad event occurs. The meeting happens right after “night fell,” (12). Right before Wiesel is transported it says “night had fallen,” (18). I was really delighted to see such an intricate metaphor in a non-fiction novel. I never though nonfiction could be so beautifully written! What made the night metaphor so amazing was that once the painful meaning of the night as established it helped me understand (ever so slightly) the horror of the concentration camps. The line “never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that
turned my life into one long night seven times sealed,” let me see the endless toil and torture of the camps (34). It made the hopelessness and darkness a little closer to something I can grasp.
Another interesting theme sprinkled about the beginning of the book is the eternal optimism the Jews seemed to possess. I (being an overly logical person with 20/20 hindsight) found the Jew’s level of optimism to be almost unbelievable. I can’t tell if the hopefulness was more of a hindrance or a help. On the one hand, it gave people a reason to hang on one day longer, like when Stein proclaims that knowing his children are alive is “The only thing that keeps me alive,” (45). On the other hand, optimism blurs reality and could make people impractical and less cognizant of the threat of the Nazis or other dangers. Optimism blinded the people of Hungary and dissuaded Jews from leaving. “The Germans were already in our town, the Fascists were already in power, the verdict was already out—and the Jews of Sighet were still smiling,” (10). I think the larger message is that no matter what one would like to believe reality will always destroy any delusion.
On the subject of delusions, I would like to discuss how religion is affected in the camps. In Man’s Search For Meaning religious devotion is described as almost always increased upon entering a camp. Yet Wiesel continues changing between deep belief and total rejection of Judaism. At one point while everyone is saying the Kaddish he “felt anger rising within,” (33), and even asks ” why should I sanctify His name?” (33). Yet shortly thereafter he “found [him]self-whispering the words,” (34). I think he is angry for the terrible events he has to endure and is blaming G-d for these problems. But at the same time, he needs a source of comfort and hope, and this is why he feels an urge to pray. Prayer gives him stability and normality (and, dare I say, meaning) in his life. It lets him be a human with a community he shares something with. So he has to face a large internal conflict about wat to do. Whereas in MSM, he recognized that it was of no use to blame G-d. Hence (like with his other placebo cures) he figured one might as well believe.
I also found the use of the kaddish an interesting representation of Wiesel’s feelings toward G-d. The Kaddish is used to divide services into sections. There are a few different Kadishes with the exact same words, but totally different meaning. People are able to take the words and impose upon them their own feelings and losses. It shows how religion can be a blank slate for the feelings of a nation and a source of unification and a shared suffering. In my opinion, the messages in Night, as well as the intelligent writing and strong emotions make it a wonderfully sad book to read.