Viewing Elie Wiesel’s Night through Various Critical Perspectives
Elie Wiesel’s Night was first published by Hill and Wang in September of 1960 in both the United States and England. The novel was translated from Elie Wiesel’s French publication of the novel, La Nuit, in 1958. La Nuit was published by Editions de Minuit and had a length of 127 pages. The novels success allowed it to be translated into all the major languages. La Nuit, however, was a reduced version of Elie Wiesel’s first novel, Un di Velt Hot Geshvign, which was published in his native language of Yiddish. Wiesel’s first novel was approximately 800 pages and received limited success (Kolbert 2). After being reduced from 800 pages to 127 pages, Wiesel’s novel was extremely successful and is viewed as one of today’s prominent Holocaust texts. The novel is taught in American classrooms throughout the United States.
Written as a memoir, Elie Wiesel’s novel tells the story of Eliezer, a young Holocaust survivor. The novel, however, is routed in Elie’s own personal experiences. When teaching the novel to high school students, a teacher should address this biographical relevance to students. Reading the novel from a biographical perspective, knowing that it reflects the author’s own personal experience allows the novel to be more respected and relevant, than as just a memoir. When reading the novel from a biographical perspective, it is interesting for readers and/or students to know that at first, Elie did not want to speak about the horrors of the Holocaust. In 1954, Wiesel interviewed the 1952 Nobel Laureate, a well-known Catholic novelist, Francois Mauriac. Muriac became fascinated by Wiesel’s memories of the Holocaust, but Wiesel refused to speak about them. Muriac then convinced him that it was his “solemn obligation to speak, to terminate his silence and write his experiences as a witness of the concentration camps” (2). After his interview with Muriac, Wiesel wrote Un di Velt Hot Geshvign, which later involved into Night. From a biographical perspective, it is important to focus on Elie’s choice to construct Night to be read as a memoir. Knowing that at first Wiesel did not want to speak about his past, writing it as a memoir assists him from directly having to revisit his memories. In the 2006 publication of Night, which is referred to as the “New Translation” and directly translated by Elie’s wife, Wiesel includes his own personal preface. In this preface, Wiesel tells readers that he has written Night solely to bear witness for those who did not survive. Wiesel states on pages viii and ix:
“I also knew that, while I had many things to say, I did not have the words to say them. Painfully aware of my limitations, I watched helplessly as language became an obstacle It became clear that it would be necessary to invent a new
language... Was there a way to describe the last journey in sealed cattle cars, the last voyage toward the unknown?...Or, incredibly, the vanishing of a beautiful, well-behaved little Jewish girl with a golden hair and a sad smile, murdered with her mother the very night of their arrival?...”
In the preface, Elie hooks readers by immediately allowing them to be introduced to the painful struggles and horrifying memories he has faced throughout his lifetime. However, including this Preface which has replaced the preface from earlier editions by Robert McAfee Brown, allows Night to be read as a more reliable source of Holocaust literature and allows readers to understand his decision to write the novel as a memoir. Focusing on Wiesel’s historical timeline, the novel does read much as a biography. Both Elie and the novel’s protagonist, Eliezer, are from the town of Sighet and were transported by train to Auschwitz. Both were separated from their mother and sisters, and watched their father suffer from starvation and dysentery. Night, is a true reflection of Wiesel’s experiences in Auschwitz and can be read through a...
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