by Elie Wiesel
Tools of Characterization
Wiesel uses direct characterization to describe many of his characters to us, rather than revealing the characters through their thoughts or actions. For example, in the first few pages of the book, Wiesel describes is his father as he was in Sighet: "My father was a cultured man, rather unsentimental. He rarely displayed his feelings, not even with family, and was more involved with the welfare of others than with that of his own kin."
While we rarely get to see families interact in their homes, Wiesel does tell us much about characters based on how they treat their families within the concentration camps. Most important is how sons treat their fathers. Night presents three sets of fathers and sons: Eliezer and his father, Rabbi Eliahu and his son, and the father and son who fight over bread. Rabbi Eliahu’s son abandons his father in order to increase his own chances of survival. This clearly reflects negatively on the Rabbi’s son; when worse comes to worst, he values his own life above family loyalty. Even more dramatic is the son that kills his own father for a measly piece of bread. This son has lost all humanity. Finally, there is Eliezer. Eliezer occasionally feels that his father is a burden, but his actions are generally admirable. Clearly, Eliezer values family and, despite the brutality of the concentration camps, has kept alive a spark of his humanity.
Actions: Behavior Toward Food
In a setting where all of the prisoners are starving, and eating enough food can mean survival, the act of being generous with food is evidence of extreme altruism. We learn that a number of characters are kind and humane because they share food: Stein often gives Eliezer a portion of his food ration, the French girl comforts Eliezer by giving him a piece of bread, Eliezer gives his dying father his coffee and soup. While in a normal situation food sharing seems less momentous, in a concentration camp where the supply of food is meager and unpredictable, sharing a bit of food is a powerful act of selflessness.