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Free Study Guide for Night by Elie Wiesel-Summary/BookNotes/Synopsis
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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

Night is an autobiographical book about the experiences of Elie Wiesel before and during the holocaust. For the most part, it is told in chronological order, beginning when Wiesel is a young boy of twelve and ending in 1945, when he is freed from the concentration camp. There are only a few flashbacks and asides that interrupt the forward movement of the plot.

Even though the book is non-fiction, it follows the classic pattern of plot development. The first section is largely expository, introducing the setting and the Wiesel family, particularly Elie, the only son; it also foreshadows the persecution of the Jews that is to follow. When Moshe the Beadle is arrested and manages to escape and return home, he tells the people in Sighet about the atrocities being inflicted on the Jews; but no one believes him.

The real action of the book begins at the end of the first section, when the Wiesels are arrested and sent by cattle car towards Auschwitz, the death camp. There Elie and his father are separated from Elie's mother and sisters. There the torture also begins.


They are exposed to the constant stench of burning flesh in the crematorium; they must watch wagons of babies and children being thrown into pits of fire; they must watch as innocent Jews are hanged for minor offenses; they are made to do hard labor; they are given little to eat or drink; and they are often beaten and stripped of their dignity. Their main purpose in life becomes survival.

The tortures continue throughout Elie's stays at Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald, as well as on the journey in between the concentration camps. Finally Elie can take it no more. In the climatic moment of the book, he questions the existence of God and refuses to pray on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and a high holy day. From that point forward, the falling action reveals that Elie deteriorates emotionally and physically. Starving to death and immune to pain and suffering, he tramps through the snow on his foot that has just been operated; he watches at a distance as the prisoners on the train kill one another for a piece of bread; he even wishes he could loose his father, who has become a burden to him.

Then when his father is taken to the crematorium, Elie feels horribly guilty for having fallen asleep. In the conclusion of the book, the Allied army arrives and Elie is physically freed; however, emotionally he is dead, as evidenced when he looks at himself in the mirror and sees a corpse. Obviously, the plot ends in a great tragedy. Elie has lost his family, his faith, and his dignity.

Even though the book is not unified by time or place, for it spans several years and many places in Romania, Poland, and Germany, it is tightly woven around character. Elie Wiesel serves as the narrator and principle character. Everything in the book is told from his point of view, and he is central to every scene. As a result, the book, though painful, is very easy to follow.

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