Elie Wiesel was victim to one of the most tragic and horrific incidents of the twentieth century, the Holocaust. He was one of few lucky ones who escaped the camps alive, while his family was part of millions who were not so lucky. Years after that, he became a journalist and eventually was convinced to finally write about his experiences with the Holocaust. The result became one of his most famously publicized works. The book, Night (English translation version), only represented the beginning of a flourishing career as a political activist and novelist. He came to the United States and continued writing about his life and political ideologies, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for works that diligently argued for ending oppression, hatred, and racism. Such themes are the underlying basis of his message in his speech The Perils of Indifference. The horrors he faced as a boy forged the man that would go on to write all of these magnificent works; the neglect and ignorance of those events that occurred during the Holocaust influenced and inspired him to warn people of the dangerous woes of indifference.
Lecturing an audience for any extended period of time is never an ideal way to convey one’s message effectively. As an experienced and successful novelist, Wiesel was well aware that if he wanted to get people to really understand what he meant when he said “Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger or hatred.”, he couldn’t just talk at his audience, he had to ask questions to engage them. However, questions don’t have to require answers, and in a speech as passionate and carefully articulated as this one, a Q & A every thirty seconds would drown out his point among all of the redundant tangents the conversation could take off in. Instead, Wiesel took the approach of using the figurative devices of asking rhetorical questions and setting up allusions to make his argument relatable, understandable, reliable, and most importantly: agreeable.
The use of rhetorical questions in this speech differs from what many people use on a day to day basis -usually to promote sarcasm or imply one must be immensely dense to not understand a point. Here, Wiesel uses the device to get his audience to participate in his argument as well as hear it. By asking themselves the very questions he asks, audiences are apt to reach the very conclusions that Wiesel’s has. Two types of rhetorical questions used by Wiesel most often are either unanswerable or suggestive. For example, “How is one to explain their indifference?” or “Why didn’t he [FDR] allow these refugees [Jews] to disembark [back to the Nazis]?” are unanswerable. Questions that don’t have an answer allow for people to make their own assumptions. If guidelines have been set prior to these questions, an audiences’ conclusions are likely to further support his argument. To this day, no one knows what influenced FDR to make certain decisions, but based on Wiesel’s persistent argument, it can be presumed that indifference played a major role in some of FDR’s decisions.
Another type of rhetorical question that Wiesel used were “suggestive” questions. There were many instances were Wiesel would insert long chains of rhetorical questions one right after the other. Though risky or even overwhelming, these questions made the direction of his argument easier to control. On the first page when he asks about indifference, he enters this chain of rhetorical questions: “What are its courses and inescapable consequences? Is it a philosophy? Is a philosophy of indifference conceivable? Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue? Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one’s sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals?”. The first rhetorical question is responded to with his next idea: Is it a philosophy? He assumes it is, then from there the idea of indifference...