Anti-Bildungsroman in Night
A Bildungsroman story is that of formation, education, or coming of age. It is characterized by the development of the young protagonist to become a more complete person. The memoir Night by Elie Wiesel features the opposite, an Anti-Bildungsroman, as sixteen-year- old Elie emerges from the concentration camp at the end as a depleted person. Elie loses his family, he loses his faith, he is physically suffering and starved, and he likely will face trauma for the rest of his life. While he begins the story as a functional and healthy member of society inspired to live, he ends it with nothing at all.
A great contributing factor to Elie’s negative character development is the loss of his family. From the moment he hears the words, “men to the life, women to right,” he is never to see his mother and sister again. During their time in the camp together, he and his father grow closer than they ever have been before. This happens out of necessity for a reason to live, and their relationship carries them through times they otherwise could not have survived. However, eventually Elie’s father dies on the death march. After losing him, Elie has no reason for continuing to live, “nothing mattered to me anymore.” (113). Without his mother and sister, he has no other family to return to. From the loss of his family, Elie is left alone in the world and lacking reason to live at all.
Growing up, Elie’s religion was a defining part of him. It inspired him to live and to always continue learning. “Why did I pray? A strange question. Why did I live? Why did I breathe?” (4). Over the course of the memoir Night, his religion is slowly dissected and torn down by his experiences in the camp. Because Elie’s expectations of god were so high, they were even more easily destroyed. With his faith taken from him, he is left with no passion in life and no hope. After seeing a child hanged and hearing another prison wonder where god is, he thinks, “this is where – hanging here from these gallows.” (65). He is not able to believe in a God that that would allow the horrors he is witnessing to happen, and so his main source of joy and inspiration in life dies. “The student of the Talmud, the child I was, had been consumed by the flames.” (37).
In addition to having lost spiritual and emotional reasons for living, Elie also experiences great physical suffering, which takes its toll on him. He describes himself in one incidence as “nothing but a body. Perhaps even less: a famished stomach.”(52). The horrible conditions in the camp drive the prisoners to abandon their humanity and only consider survival. “That’s all we thought about. No thought of revenge, or of parents. Only of bread.” (115). Elie even becomes dehumanized and survival oriented enough that he feels resentment towards his father for being weak. “I felt anger at that moment, it was not directed at the Kapo, but my at father. Why couldn’t he have avoided Idek’s wrath?”(54). Elie’s physical suffering plays a great role in how the concentration camp shapes him and affects him psychologically.
The trauma that Elie experienced in the concentration camps can never truly be recovered from, and will likely leave him feeling an outcast to the mainstream world for the rest of his life. When he sees himself in the mirror for the first time after he is liberated, he describes himself as “a corpse” (115). The version of him that entered the camp is dead, and now only an empty shell remains. “Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.” (34). Attempting to create a life, even gaining the willpower to do so, after time in the concentration camps will certainly not be easy for Elie. Going through the trauma that he did was highly detrimental to him as a person and his experiences will continue to haunt him for the rest of his life.
The memoir Night by Elie Wiesel features and Anti-Bildungsroman story: the opposite to the Bildungsroman story. Elie begins the story as a happy and healthy person with a lot to live for, and ends it with nothing as a result of his time in the concentration camps. His family is dead, he no longer believes in his religion, he has suffered physically, and he is badly traumatized. While some people try to spin all hardships into an opportunity for development, there is such a thing as meaningless suffering that does nothing but destroy people, and it is exactly the type of suffering that was endured by the countless people like Elie Wiesel who lived and died in concentration camps.
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