The Theme of Adolescence in the Book Night by Elie Wiesel
Tragedy seen by a child’s eyes is an approach that is often used in literature in order to emphasize the contrast between the good and the evil, as well as life’s fragility. For Elie Wiesel choosing a perspective of a teenager’s vision of Holocaust horrors is not merely a literary technique, but a terrifying memory of his own life. This is why the theme of adolescence and learning is so closely related to experiences of death and violence.
The main character, Eliezer, comes from Hungary but ethnically he is Jewish, like the author. In fact, he is almost a complete alter-ego of Elie Wiesel, as he tells his personal story making only the minor changes. He belongs to a family where spirituality is an important aspect; and from his early years Eliezer studies Tora. In fact, religious studies are not a punishment for him, like for many children; he takes sincere interest in them and is a true believer of God. At the point when the story takes place, the boy is in his teens. The narration is made in the first person, so the reader cannot see the whole context apart from Eliezer’s perspective, but this makes the story more confessional. Besides, small details elicited from his narration tell the truth about the whole pattern.
Indeed, this picture is horrible. The family of Eliezer has to pass through several circles of hell when moving to its very center. With each step it seems that the situation can be worse, but it appears that hell has different degrees of monstrosity. At first, Eliezer and his family are captured by fascists and deported to Birkenau, which is a passage to Auschwitz. At this point the female and male parts of the family are separated forever, which is only a beginning of a tragedy. He and his father have to pass through a procedure, which will determine their fate – to live and work or to die. They pass this evaluation but it takes much fear and humiliation imprinted in Eliezer’s teenage soul. Pure and deeply religious, having a genuine trust for the world, he suddenly discovers that his ideals of humanity are undermined, and that God does not see the suffering of his people. “The most important theme in Night is that of theodicy: the struggle to believe in God's justice and goodness when the world created by the Deity is so filled with evil. The boy, Eliezer, lived in a Jewish world, where God was loved and the people were peaceful and good” (Sternlicht, 2003, p. 35). It takes courage and determination to survive physically, but it is much more difficult to keep faith that gives sense to living.
The story about living in Auschwitz deals much with the good and the evil aspects of the human nature. The degree of cruelty is beyond the limits that a normal human can bear. However, it is not only cruelty of the Nazis that is discussed in the book; the author recollects and explores how violence affects the victims and whether it is contagious. There is no single answer to the question, because people act in different ways. Many of them realize that mutual care and support is the only way to survive, because humanity is the main feature that distinguishes people from other creatures. However, there are people whose spirit is broken so much that animal instincts of survival switch on leaving all human feelings aside. Such people become violent to their own family members and friends just for the sake of their own living. “The vividly depicted apocalyptic abominations of the Germans, a supposedly civilized people, cause Eliezer and Wiesel to lose faith not only in God's goodness, but also in humankind's capacity for goodness. Most often, they reduce human beings to animal-like savagery as they struggle to save themselves. We are not saints”. (Sternlicht, 2003, p. 36).When watching this, Eliezer gets experience about the world, about different ways that people choose in their existence. He and his father are among those who try to oppose violence, yet the boy discovers that he seems to love his human touch too.
No matter how hard he tries to save his father, he fails to do so and he dies in Buchenwald. This is the final blow to Eliezer, whose faith is broken. His body survives but his soul is empty. This experience has made him an adult very quickly but it destroyed the inner carcass of his relationship with God. The true bond to the essence of existence is lost and the previous communication does not exist any longer. Besides, he takes the relationship between a father and a son as something special, which reflects the idea of God as father. Now only his father is gone, but also an important part of his life.
In conclusion, it is worth saying that the book Night is far from being a typical story of a teenager. The horrors faced by the main character make it impossible for him to think of small problems of adolescence; instead, he has to start thinking about the global values of humanity. In order to survive, he has to go through moral and physical torture, death of his father and break of his intimate bond with God. The author demonstrates that violence gives birth to violence, so staying human is the major challenge for a person.