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Free Study Guide for Night by Elie Wiesel-Summary/BookNotes/Synopsis
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Major Theme

The main theme of Night is man's inhumanity to his fellow man, as seen in the persecution and torture of the Jews due to Hitler's prejudice against them. In the beginning of the book, the persecution begins when the Germans occupy Sighet. Soon Jews are made to wear yellow stars to identify themselves; in addition, Jewish shops are closed and Jewish homes are seized, forcing the families to live in the ghetto.

Then the deportations begin. The Jews are herded into cattle cars and sent to concentration camps, where they are forced to do hard labor, are beaten and tortured, are denied food and water, and are often killed by burning, hanging, shooting, starving, freezing, or beating. Even the babies and small children are thrown into pits of fire since they serve no purpose to the Nazis.

Because of the torture they must witness and endure, the prisoners become animalistic. When they are made to march, if a fellow prisoner falls, he is often trampled to death. When food is thrown at them, the prisoners kill each other to gain a bite of bread. In their search for survival, sons turn against their fathers; even Elie has fleeting thoughts of being rid of Mr. Wiesel.

Through most of the book, however, Elie tries to help his father, who is repeatedly tortured. He shows him how to march properly so he will not be persecuted by the Nazi guards; he nurses him after he is beaten by a guard; he saves him from being thrown off the train as a corpse; he gets him up and to Buchenwald after he falls amongst the corpses; and he takes care of him after his skull is cracked for pleading for water. In the end, Mr. Wiesel is taken to the crematorium and thrown into the fire, probably while he is still breathing. It is hard to believe that people can be so cruel to their fellow man.

Minor Theme

The importance of religious faith is the minor theme of the novel. From the time of his childhood, Elie was extremely interested in Judaism and studied the Talmud and the Cabbala. He regularly attended services at the synagogue, prayed to his God, and wept over the history of the Jews. His father was also very religious.

In the concentration camps, religion helps the prisoners to endure. Both Muslims and Jews regularly pray to God for mercy and help. The Jews still fast during holy days, even though they are starving to death. It seems that nothing can shake their faith. Elie's faith, however, gets shaken to the core.

Sickened by the torture he must see and endure, Elie questions if God really exists. He refuses to pray on the eve of the Jewish New Year and will not fast during the time of atonement. Elie's faith, however, is not permanently shattered. When he sees a son robbing from his father, he prays to God that he may never desert his father. The prayer is answered, for even when his father becomes a burden, Elie stays by his side and cares for him.


The Meaning of the Title of the Novel

Wiesel's experiences during the holocaust, one of the darkest periods in human history, are like a journey into a night of total blackness. During his stay in the various concentration camps, Wiesel witnesses and endures the worst kind of man's inhumanity to his fellow men, as prisoners are beaten, tortured, starved, and murdered. Darkness and evil reigned. When Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, he condemned the silence and apathy of those who did not cry out and condemn the criminal atrocities of Hitler and his dark forces.

As a symbol, night does not merely represent physical darkness; it also stands for the darkness of the soul. It was obvious that the Nazis were dark and evil; but Wiesel also felt that his heart was darkened by the evil around him. In the book, he says about himself, "There remained only a shape that looked like man. A dark flame had entered into my soul and devoured it." Obviously, throughout the holocaust, Wiesel was living through a long "night" of terror and torture, where he could see no light at the end of the tunnel, only perpetual darkness.

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