A Literary Analysis of Night
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed….Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never. (Wiesel)” In the novel, Night, Elie Wiesel narrates his horrific experience as a young Jewish boy during the holocaust in which he witnessed some of the eleven million deaths that took place as a result of Adolf Hitler’s pursuit of power. At the age of twelve, Eliezer and his family were transported and moved through numerous concentration camps in which he witnessed the absolute worst forms torture, abuse, and inhumane treatment. This experience had a tremendous physical, emotional and spiritual effect on Eliezer and had an obvious influence on the tone in which he wrote the book. In order to give the reader a realistic experience, Wiesel uses aggressive diction, gruesome imagery and figurative language to reinforce Eliezer’s loss of faith and identity.
Wiesel’s aggressive diction gives the reader a clear picture of his experience in the concentration camp, and offers an explanation of why Eliezer, a devout jew, begins doubt lose faith in God. He uses the words “murder” and “consumed” to describe how he feels about his faith being tested. Both of these words carry heavy connotations and further support Eliezer’s suggestion that his faith has been devoured by the “flames” of the Holocaust. He continues to say that his “dreams” turned “to ashes,” suggesting that he no longer has anything to live for. His constant repetition of the phrase “Never shall I forget” continuously engrains the horrors of the Holocaust into the reader’s mind. Wiesel also uses more forceful words such as “commanded” rather than milder words such as “asked” or “requested” to dictate to the reader the treatment that they received. These words point to the power of The Bible for the Jews, and suggest that they are only continuing their Jewish traditions out of obligation rather than out of desire to practice their faith. Strangely, Wiesel also uses the word “Hellish” to describe the sun and the effects that it has on his health and hydration. This use of tone and diction help to give the reader a firsthand perspective on Eliezer’s experiences, and allow them to better understand the challenges he underwent.
The use of a solemn tone and varying literary devices is an effective method by Wiesel to portray the emotions, or lack there of, to the reader. Dr. Yi Chan of Stanford University suggests that Wiesel reflected on the most depressing parts of the Holocaust, and effectively puts the reader in a depressed state of mind. Although the majority of the text was very full of emotion, there were times in which Wiesel displayed no emotion at all; as if the life had been sucked out of him. For example, “On the seventh day of Passover, the curtain finally rose: the Germans arrested the leaders of the Jewish community. From that moment on, everything happened very quickly. The race toward death had begun” (10). In this quote, the text suggest that Wiesel has no care for his life anymore, he has accept his fate. In the previous quote, one can also find a metaphor, “the curtain finally rose.” This represents the unveiling of the German’s actions that had been relatively hidden for sometime.
Another example of a metaphor is when Eliezer sat hopelessly in the concentration camp, speaking to himself, “As Eliezer says himself, “The days were like nights, and the nights left the dregs of their darkness in our souls” (88). Night is thus a metaphor for the way the soul was submerged in suffering and hopelessness.The reader can also find personification in the text, one time being when Wiesel describes the way the children when looked upon entering the crematorium: “Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky” (34). The inhuman characteristics of the bodies turning to smoke give the reader a gruesome image that is bound to have an emotional effect. The use of literary devices in the text adds an additional element to Wiesel’s memoir, and works as an effective support to the diction and imagery.
Although Wiesel uses tone as a depressant for the majority of the novel, he does also cleverly use it throughout the story to express the strength of his relationship with his father even in the face of hardship. The narrator’s love for his father was, at times, the only reason he had to keep up the constant struggle to live, “The idea of dying, of ceasing to be, began to fascinate me. To no longer exist. To no longer feel the excruciating pain of my foot” (86). In this quote, Wiesel is setting up a tone of surrender, of hopelessness. The text suggest that Eliezer has given in, and is content with death. However, as the sequence progresses, he goes on to write, “My father’s presence was the only thing that stopped me. He was running next to me, out of breath, out of strength, desperate” (86). Even when death seemed like an attractive option, Eliezer’s thoughts of his father kept him pushing through his hardships. Tone is used in the text in order to convey a certain mood to the reader that would not be attained without it.
Wiesel uses imagery in order to reach the reader beyond one’s normal perspective, and reach into the imaginative side of the reader’s mind. According to Sean M. Conrey of the Purdue Owl, an author “uses a word or phrase to stimulate one’s memory of those senses. These memories can be positive or negative and will contribute to the mood of the story”. This can be found throughout the novel, one time being when Eliezer crawls out out his bed to look in the mirror, only to find a horrific sight, “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me” (109). This is the final line of the book, and leaves the reader with the everlasting image of Eliezer’s broken body as he comes to the realization of what he has gone through. Another time in which Wiesel depicts a memorable image to the reader is when he stands in the concentration camp, asking himself, “Where is God now?”, only to answer himself, “Where is HE? Here He is- He is hanging here on the gallows….” (62) Eliezer refers to the boy who had been hung for all to see as God’s work, further stating that he has lost all faith in God. One can clearly imagine a young defeated corpse, innocent written on his face. This use of imagery greatly effects the reader, and they ways in which one interprets the novel.
The most important thing to Eliezer is his Jewish faith; however, he loses all trust in God after witnessing the horrific Holocaust. In turn, Eliezer is dripped of his identity. Wiezel is able to effectively relay this idea to the reader through the text. He does this by using various literary devices, and an overly aggressive diction. This portrayal of the Holocaust offers a different point of view to the reader, as it shows much more than just the physical effects. The reader now has clearer understanding of what the Jews had to truly endure during this genocide.
After reflecting on the pessimistic consequences of this crude and selfish murder, a change in conscience comes over Raskolnikov. Once he understands the reality of the matter, he suffers a breakdown, “Surely it isn’t beginning already! Surely it isn’t my punishment coming upon me? It is! (103)”. Though he commits a very serious crime, Raskolnikov still refuses to believe it actually happened. Referring to his theory on man, in which the extraordinary man is “allowed” to break the law, he should be permitted to break the law without question, since he connects with the mentality possessed by the extraordinary man. Sonya’s delicate persona helps prove to Raskolnikov that he doesn’t fully qualify for part of the extraordinary man. That small fragment in him consisting of all the goodness purity, love and forgiveness associated with Sonya still shines through to her. He realized the pain and suffering he must go through, but cannot allow the law to overcome his intelligence. Not accepting Sonya’s identity, his mind and body lead him to carry the burden of guilt. Mentally, he could not surrender to the just legalities that governed the town, and physically he could not surrender to its cruelty.
Raskolnikov’s overbearing resistance to authority leads him away from the path of truth and, because of this ignorance to reality, he refuses to admit his crime. Confused between right and wrong, he experiences an internal battle, bringing him into a mental dispute, Raskolnikov had to tell Sonia who had killed Lizaveta. He knew the terrible suffering it would be to him and, as it were, brushed away the thought of it. (183)” Sonya offers him more than he could ever imagine, all because of her unconditional submission to his needs. Sonya’s innocence and sensitivity only makes Raskolnikov more attracted and obedient to her. Leading him onto the right path of truth and helping him to realize his crime: ”I did not bow down to you, Sonia, I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity,” he said wildly and walked away to the window. (351)” Only when Sonya embodies his emotions and his “ordinary” side can he actually regain his strength and confidence. Once he embraces on the idea that his life would not be complete without her, he listens to her advice to proclaim his unethical actions to the town.
The transition from intellectual, disoriented and then to focused thought, along with the imprisonment in Siberia, deteriorates his mind, creating more guilt that he will eternally suffer from. This allows Raskolnikov to rebuild his ideals from the start, “You must fulfill the demands of justice. I know that you don’t believe it, but indeed, life will bring you through. You will live it down in time. What you need now is fresh air, fresh air, fresh air! (378)” Only by nurturing Sonya does he return to a normal state of mind. The emotional awakening he goes through brings him closer to the qualities possessed by the ordinary man. The experience and conviction behind him generates an even greater intelligence for Raskolnikov and stops him from going back to his time of pain. Without this discovery, brought about mostly by Sonya, he would be condemned to a life full of misery and regret; the life of a man caught between the ordinary and extraordinary man. Analyzing his actions helps bring a closure to the agony and frustration previously existing in Raskolnikov’s mind.
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