Study Guide

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Coming-of-Age, Autobiographical Novel, Jewish Literature

This is not your typical coming-of-age story, which generally deals with a young person’s introduction to independence, love, sex, and possibly death (but usually not their own) and often ends on a positive, forward-looking note. Here, the story is about death and survival. The scene is one of death—concentration camps. Daily life is a struggle to survive—to find basic necessities like food and water, to avoid selection for death in the smokestacks, to avoid getting beaten. Eliezer’s coming-of-age experience is so intense and horrific that he loses his faith in God and is exposed to the worst aspects of humanity. Although the book does end on a positive note because Eliezer is liberated, we are presented with an image of Eliezer as a corpse—an image that never leaves him the rest of his life. Thus, our final image is not positive; our final image is of death. So although this is a coming-of-age story, it is not the kind of story that a person who had the more common transition to adulthood can relate to easily. Eliezer doesn’t gain his adulthood; he loses his childhood.

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