Elie Wiesel’s Night: Mankind’s must read text

Sara Pisak, Assistant Opinion Editor

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September 30, 2015 marked the 87th birthday of Nobel Peace Prize and Congressional Gold Medal winning author Elie Wiesel. Night, his most famous work, originally published in 1958 recounts Eliezer (Elie) and his family’s imprisonment in the concentration camps known as Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Narrating Wiesel’s tale is the teenage version of himself who recalls his three years of imprisonment and of torture. This marks my third time reading Night as it has become one of my personal favorites. Night should be required reading for not only every student or lover of literature but every human being as it portrays important life and literary elements.

First, Wiesel’s narrative structure is to be admired. Wiesel composed Night at the age of 30, 14 years after being liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp. It is obvious the harrowing events of his youth have remained with Elie. However, Night is not narrated by hindsight or retrospect. Instead, the text’s narrator is thirteen year old Wiesel as he experiences these events. Wiesel masterfully weaves together the past and the present flawlessly.

Night reminisces the events of Wiesel’s imprisonment by the Gestapo from the ages of thirteen through sixteen. Wiesel does look back, narrating events but it is the actions of a teenage Wiesel that presents the dialogue and action up close and personal. This combination of present and past leaves the reader with a corporeal, visceral experience. As his teenage narrator, Wiesel capably mixes a voice of wisdom and naivety. Floating between the narrative of an experienced adult and an innocent teenager, Wiesel finds the sweet spot of his narrative style.

The narrative structure of Night keeps the reader tight within its grasp. While Elie and the other prisoners are forced by SS officers to run several miles between camps to avoid the advancing Allied forces liberation efforts, the reader feels as if they are required to run with frostbitten limbs in knee deep snow. It is Wiesel’s crafting of the narration that allows a reader to be viscerally affected. Before the reader realizes it, the narrative combination of experienced adult and innocent teenage allows the reader to be caught up in the oppression afflicted on Elie and the other prisoners. By the text’s conclusion, the reader is as deeply affected, unable to shake what they have read and experienced. These experiences change the reader for the positive.

Fully experiencing Wiesel’s narrative, the reader is able to open their mind to the text’s most profound message: we owe it to the victims of atrocities to remember our past fully; not to erase ghastly situations that neglect to conform to the perfect notion of history we weave. By erasing our past horrific moments, we dishonor and disrespect those, whose courageous actions, perseverance and strength allowed them to retain their humanity throughout these grisly circumstances.

The concluding sentences of Wiesel’s text serves as a reminder that we must all take steps to ensure historical tragedies are not repeated. After his liberation, Wiesel concludes his text “One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.” The final scene Wiesel paints is shocking to read and to comprehend. Wiesel himself is so astonished that he does not refer to himself with the personal pronoun “I” but with the pronoun “he” therefore, regarding himself as a separate entity. Elie represents himself as someone who has been forever changed by the events of his life. He is no longer the same “I” as he was before the concentration camp. Readers also find themselves forever changed just by being privy to Elie’s life.

What should transform a reader is remembering the text is nonfiction. No matter how unpleasant the text, a reader cannot deny the existence of these events. By denying the text’s reality an even greater injustice is committed. The final sentence of Night proves to be as haunting as the events themselves. A reader cannot and should not be able to shake Wiesel’s gaze, which represents millions of others who have suffered. Wiesel’s gaze serves as a reminder that collectively we should not erase horrific past events but should work to ensure these events are never repeated as we strive for a more accepting and compassionate humanity.

Readers can further their knowledge, outreach and love of the text by going to the eliewieselfoundation.org and become acquainted with The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. The name of the organization says it all: Night and all of Wiesel’s work focus on the good of man striving to shine a light on the dark side of humanity.

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