Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Eliezer’s Struggle to Maintain Faith in a Benevolent God
Eliezer’s struggle with his faith is a dominant conflict in Night. At the beginning of the work, his faith in God is absolute. When asked why he prays to God, he answers, “Why did I pray? . . . Why did I live? Why did I breathe?” His belief in an omnipotent, benevolent God is unconditional, and he cannot imagine living without faith in a divine power. But this faith is shaken by his experience during the Holocaust.
Initially, Eliezer’s faith is a product of his studies in Jewish mysticism, which teach him that God is everywhere in the world, that nothing exists without God, that in fact everything in the physical world is an “emanation,” or reflection, of the divine world. In other words, Eliezer has grown up believing that everything on Earth reflects God’s holiness and power. His faith is grounded in the idea that God is everywhere, all the time, that his divinity touches every aspect of his daily life. Since God is good, his studies teach him, and God is everywhere in the world, the world must therefore be good.
Eliezer’s faith in the goodness of the world is irreparably shaken, however, by the cruelty and evil he witnesses during the Holocaust. He cannot imagine that the concentration camps’ unbelievable, disgusting cruelty could possibly reflect divinity. He wonders how a benevolent God could be part of such depravity and how an omnipotent God could permit such cruelty to take place. His faith is equally shaken by the cruelty and selfishness he sees among the prisoners. If all the prisoners were to unite to oppose the cruel oppression of the Nazis, Eliezer believes, then maybe he could understand the Nazi menace as an evil aberration. He would then be able to maintain the belief that humankind is essentially good. But he sees that the Holocaust exposes the selfishness, evil, and cruelty of which everybody—not only the Nazis, but also his fellow prisoners, his fellow Jews, even himself—is capable. If the world is so disgusting and cruel, he feels, then God either must be disgusting and cruel or must not exist at all.
Though this realization seems to annihilate his faith, Eliezer manages to retain some of this faith throughout his experiences. At certain moments—during his first night in the camp and during the hanging of the pipel—Eliezer does grapple with his faith, but his struggle should not be confused with a complete abandonment of his faith. This struggle doesn’t diminish his belief in God; rather, it is essential to the existence of that belief. When Moshe the Beadle is asked why he prays, he replies, “I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.” In other words, questioning is fundamental to the idea of faith in God. The Holocaust forces Eliezer to ask horrible questions about the nature of good and evil and about whether God exists. But the very fact that he asks these questions reflects his commitment to God.
Discussing his own experience, Wiesel once wrote, “My anger rises up within faith and not outside it.” Eliezer’s struggle reflects such a sentiment. Only in the lowest moments of his faith does he turn his back on God. Indeed, even when Eliezer says that he has given up on God completely, Wiesel’s constant use of religious metaphors undercuts what Eliezer says he believes. Eliezer even refers to biblical passages when he denies his faith. When he fears that he might abandon his father, he prays to God, and, after his father’s death, he expresses regret that there was no religious memorial. At the end of the book, even though he has been forever changed by his Holocaust experience, Eliezer emerges with his faith intact.
In one of Night’s most famous passages, Eliezer states, “Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.” It is the idea of God’s silence that he finds most troubling, as this description of an event at Buna reveals: as the Gestapo hangs a young boy, a man asks, “Where is God?” yet the only response is “[t]otal silence throughout the camp.” Eliezer and his companions are left to wonder how an all-knowing, all-powerful God can allow such horror and cruelty to occur, especially to such devout worshipers. The existence of this horror, and the lack of a divine response, forever shakes Eliezer’s faith in God.
More main ideas from Night
Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for Night by Elie Wiesel that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of Night by Elie Wiesel in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Bearing Witness: The Power of the Memoir Genre
Night is just one of many memoirs written by Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust. Wiesel feels compelled to bear witness to the suffering that he experienced and observed in the concentration camps. In Night he narrates the experience of the deaths of his family members, the death of his adolescence, and the death in his naïve belief in man’s innate goodness. The power of the genre of the memoir is that it captures experience and insists that forgetting about such crimes against humanity is not an option, neither for Wiesel nor for the reader.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Death of Innocence and the Restoration of Hope
In Night, memoirist Elie Wiesel shares his most personal memories of the Holocaust, which he experienced directly and during which he lost his family and many friends. The pervasiveness of unparalleled evil perpetrated by the Germans against the Jews shattered young Elie’s hopefulness and his belief in the innate goodness of human beings. Although he could have retained that view throughout the remainder of his life, Night ultimately shows how Wiesel was eventually able to restore hope and optimism and belief in others and to live with the enormous burden of pain that he carries. The process that Wiesel endures in order to arrive at the restoration of hope is only hinted at, however. In the last line of the memoir, Wiesel alludes that the stare that is returned to him when he looks in a mirror compelled him to move forward in his life and to reject impulses of death.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Father-Son Relationships
One of the most painful situations and preoccupying thoughts that trouble young Elie involve the ways in which father-son relationships are torn asunder by the camps. He watches as sons deny—or at least consider denying—care to their fathers, putting their own interests before familial ties. Elie struggles with the same conflict when his father becomes ill, and when his father finally dies, Elie is profoundly sad though also proud that he never wholly compromised his own beliefs about family. The reason that Elie finds the deterioration of father-son relationships so painful is that the maintenance of this relationship seems to be the last barrier between a world that is semi-normal and one that has completely been turned upside down. Elie must continue to care for his ailing father because to do otherwise would mean that he had become as evil as the Germans.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Metaphor of Night
Wiesel’s memoir is simply titled Night. The literal time of night in the camps is not a period of rest or respite for the Jewish prisoners; instead, it is a continuation of the persistent anxiety and fear that are experienced during the day. At the same time, night does have some positive qualities, permitting the prisoners to talk with one another and attempt to hang onto the last vestiges of normal social interactions. Night also has a symbolic function, however. It is dark and obscure, a time when people with nefarious motives operate. To young Elie, the night feels never-ending. When he is finally liberated from the concentration camp, it is not clear whether the night has given way to day. Elie will have a long way to go to find his way to the light and the restoration of a somewhat normal life.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: Food
Food is understandably a major preoccupation among the prisoners in the concentration camp. Many episodes in the memoir involve food—either its lack, its inadequacy, or its use as a tool to stimulate desired behavior. In fact, over time the Jewish prisoners come to use food in much the same way that the Germans do. Although there are still Jewish prisoners who share their food with one another, some of the prisoners insist upon a survival strategy that Elie finds difficult to accept. That survival strategy involves hoarding one’s food and other limited material goods for oneself in an every-man-for-himself philosophy. When the camps are liberated, food remains an important objects, both a literal object and a symbolic signifier of all that has been taken from the Jews and all that they will need to do to nourish themselves to heal.
This list of important quotations from Night by Elie Wiesel will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Night by Elie Wiesel listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Elie Wiesel they are referring to.
“We settled in. (What a word!)." (20)
“A terrible thought crossed my mind: What if he had wanted to be rid of his father? He had felt his father growing weaker…had thought…to free himself of a burden that could diminish his own change for survival. It was good that I had forgotten all that." (91).
“One day when we had come to a stop, a worker took a piece of bread out of his bag and threw it into a wagon. There was a stampede. Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs. The worker watched the spectacle with great interest." (100)
“On my return from the bread distribution, I found my father crying like a child." (109)
“Listen to me, kid. Don’t forget that you are in a concentration camp. In this place, it is every man for himself, and you cannot think of others. Not even your father. In this place, there is no such thing as father, brother, friend. Each of us lives and dies alone." (110)
“I remained in Buchenwald until April 11. I shall not describe my life during that period. It no longer mattered. Since my father’s death, nothing mattered to me anymore." (113)
“I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I was out of tears. And deep inside me, if I could have searched the recesses of my feeble conscience, I might have found something like: Free at last!" (112)
“Our first act as free men was to throw ourselves onto the provisions. That’s all we thought about. No thought of revenge, or of parents. Only of bread." (115)
“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." (115)
Reference: Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972