by Elie Wiesel
Night Theme of Identity
In the beginning of Night, Eliezer’s identity is that of an innocent child, a student of Talmud, and a devout Jew. But the concentration camps experience strips him (and his fellow Jewish prisoners) of his identity. Eliezer’s hair is shaved, he’s dressed like all of the other prisoners, and in facing the atrocities of the camp, he loses his innocence (he’s no longer a child) and his faith in God (he’s no longer a devout Jew or student of Talmud). Eliezer and all of the other prisoners are given numbers instead of names. They are no longer individuals, but prisoners, "creatures," and eventually simply bodies. The longer they remain in camps, the more they are reduced to a mere physical presence, losing themselves to their self-preservation instinct, and eventually becoming simply hungry, nearly dead bodies. They are denied a spirit, a soul, human dignity, and even their bodies are denied the sustenance needed to survive—food, water, adequate shelter, and sleep.
Questions About Identity
- Do the prisoners accept the idea that they are just a body with no spiritual or emotional needs? How do the prisoners try to keep their spirits and emotions alive despite the harsh cruelties of the concentration camps?
- Which is worse, according to Eliezer, to kill the body or the soul? Does Eliezer think you can kill somebody’s soul? If yes, how?
- In what ways do the SS officers and others in the concentration camps attempt to strip the prisoners of their humanity? How do they manage to make them become simply "bodies" as opposed to human beings?
- What is the effect of the entrance process to Birkenau—the stripping of possessions, shaving of hair, separating males and females, dressing all prisoners alike?
- Eliezer’s identity upon entering the concentration camp is that of a child, a student of Talmud. What is his identity when he leaves?
Chew on This
Even though Eliezer is not immune to the degradation of his spirit, he manages to cling to his personhood through his connection with his father.