by Elie Wiesel
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Somber, Mournful, Honest
Wiesel’s tone, as you might expect in a book about Nazi concentration camps, is serious and somber. He makes no attempt to lighten the mood with jokes—there wasn’t really much happiness in the concentration camps and he doesn’t make any up for the sake of the reader. The tone is mournful. Wiesel mourns the fact that the Jews didn’t pay attention to warnings about the Germans’ intentions. He mourns the loss of his family, the loss of his childhood, and the loss of his faith in God’s justice. He also grieves that, because of the horrific situation, he was not as good a son as he wishes he could have been.
The tone is also incredibly honest. Wiesel doesn’t shy away from describing moments that he regrets and feels guilty about. He doesn’t hide the fact that he didn’t defend his father from the SS officer that smashed his father’s head, that he went to bed while his father died alone, and that he sometimes felt his father was a burden. This honesty doesn’t come from feelings of indifference—he’s reflective about these experiences and expresses feelings of genuine guilt and shame. Through Wiesel’s stories, we learn that the situation brought out the dark sides in him, just as it brought out the worst in other prisoners.
It’s also important to point out what the tone is not. The narration overall isn’t angry or hateful. Occasionally Eliezer at 15 years of age is angry or hateful—at the Hungarian police, at SS officers, at God—but overall the narrative tone is not. Wiesel is also not accusatory in his writing; he stays away from blaming and judging people that treated him and his father terribly. Without using angry or accusatory language, Wiesel emphasizes the point that this situation was horrifying and brutal in the extreme, and never should be allowed to happen again.