Night

Topics: Émile Zola, Dreyfus affair, Psalms Pages: 1 (360 words) Published: March 19, 2013
This passage, from Night’s third section, occurs just after Eliezer and his father realize they have survived the first selection at Birkenau. It is perhaps Night’s most famous passage, notable because it is one of the few moments in the memoir where Eliezer breaks out of the continuous narrative stream with which he tells his tale. As he reflects upon his horrendous first night in the concentration camp and its lasting effect on his life, Wiesel introduces the theme of Eliezer’s spiritual crisis and his loss of faith in God.

In its form, this passage resembles two significant pieces of literature: Psalm 150, from the Bible, and French author Emile Zola’s 1898 essay “J’accuse.” Psalm 150, the final prayer in the book of Psalms, is an ecstatic celebration of God. Each line begins, “Hallelujah,” or “Praise God.” Here, Wiesel constructs an inverse version of that psalm, beginning each line with a negation—“Never”—that replaces the affirmative “Hallelujah” of the original. Whereas Psalm 150 praises God, this passage questions him. As such, both the form and content of this passage reflect the inversion of Eliezer’s faith and the morality of the world around him. Everything he once believed has been turned upside down, in the same way that this passage’s words invert both the form and content of Psalm 150.

Zola’s essay “J’accuse” was a response to the Dreyfus Affair, an incident in which a Jewish army officer was unjustly convicted of treason, a judgment at least partially motivated by anti-Semitism. Zola responded by publishing an open letter in the Paris newspaper L’Aurore, denouncing the authorities who had covered up the injustice and perpetuated the persecution. Zola heightened the aggressive tone of the letter by repeatedly stressing the refrain “J’accuse” (“I accuse”).

The similarities between Wiesel’s passage and Zola’s—the French words of the refrain, the anti-Semitic context, and the defiant tone—invite comparison between the two texts. Zola’s piece...
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