Study Guide

Hope, Despair and Memory Compare and Contrast

By Elie Wiesel

  • Elie Wiesel, Night

    It's pretty likely if you know of Elie Wiesel, you were introduced to him through this book.

    Night (not surprisingly, given its title) is an incredibly dark book. In recounting Elie's experiences during the Holocaust, it also chronicles the absolute destruction of his faith and the darkest depths of his soul.

    Night doesn't contain the hopeful note that Wiesel ends his "Hope, Despair and Memory" speech on. The book, the first in a trilogy of books, eventually moves toward hope by the last book, Day, but this first book is a meditation on some of the most tragic events a human being can go through.

  • Oscar Arias Sanchez, Nobel Acceptance Speech, 1987

    A year after Elie Wiesel took the award, the president of Costa Rica won the Nobel Peace Prize for trying to broker peace in Central America, during a time where the Reagan administration was funding an armed insurgency to knock over the Nicaraguan socialist government (look up the Iran-Contra affair for all the juicy illegal details).

    In his Nobel Lecture, he, like Wiesel, talks about trying to pursue peace after inheriting a really bloody past, full of dictators, prejudice, and all other assorted nastiness. Both speakers are really about shaking governments out of their passivity and cracking down on injustice.

    And ultimately, the message is the same: history needs to be a forward-moving progression. It's unthinkable that, as time goes by, we should stagnate or get worse. Sanchez says this explicitly in this line:

    History can only move towards liberty. History can only have justice at its heart. To march in the opposite direction to history is to be on the road to shame, poverty and oppression. (Source)

    History often isn't a neat climb toward progress, but, according to Wiesel and Sanchez, it should be.

  • Ronald Reagan, "Memorial Day Speech," 1986

    In the same year as Elie Wiesel, ol' Ronnie Reagan also gave a speech about the necessity of peace in the world.

    But, you probably figured that, given the speaker, it was pretty different.

    For one thing, the past for Reagan doesn't pose any problems. There were no lessons that went unheeded, no suffering that went ignored. There were just heroes who fought against troubles and won. To Reagan, peace wasn't won by reflection, but by strength and flexing that strength abroad. Wiesel and Reagan both yearn for peace in the world, but their worldviews are very different things entirely.

  • Elie Wiesel, "50 Year Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz Speech," 1995

    Nine years later, Elie Wiesel delivered a memorial speech at the grounds of Auschwitz concentration camp that carried much of the same spirit of the "Hope, Despair and Memory" speech.

    The central point that this speech wove around was remembering the nightmares that happened there, in order for their children to never have to know them firsthand. The generational call is actually really interesting, because it provides another level into the whole remembering message. The call here is to actively move injustice not only into the past, but specifically into the realm of memory. If we learn from our mistakes as a group, then all we'll even have to do with injustice is remember it.