Study Guide

Night Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Elie Wiesel

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Night

Night is used throughout the book to symbolize death, darkness of the soul, and loss of faith. As an image, it comes up repeatedly. Even when the scene is literally set during the day, night may be invoked. Consider all the terrible things that happen at night: Mrs. Schächter has her visions of fire, hell, and death; Eliezer and his father arrive at Auschwitz and see the smokestacks and wait in line all night long with the smell of death in their noses; there is the night the soup tastes like corpses; they march through long nights and, stacked on top of each other, smother each other to death in the night; Eliezer’s father dies during the night. As Eliezer says himself, "The days were like nights, and the nights left the dregs of their darkness in our souls" (7.22). Night is thus a metaphor for the way the soul was submerged in suffering and hopelessness.

Fire, flames

Fire and flames are used to symbolize death. In Chapter Two, as the train full of Jews from Sighet approaches Auschwitz, Mrs. Schächter has a vision of fire and flames. She screeches about the fire through the long night and then again the following night. When they at last arrive at Auschwitz, the inhabitants of the car understand what she was talking about: the crematoria, where bodies of prisoners are burned. Fire is an ever-present threat of death; the view and the smell of the crematoria permeate all aspects of life in the concentration camps, reminding the prisoners of their closeness to death.

Corpses

The image of corpses is used not only to describe literal death, but also to symbolize spiritual death. After liberation, when Eliezer looks at himself for the first time in many months, he sees a corpse in the mirror. The look in his eyes as he stares at himself never leaves him. It speaks of the horror he has experienced and seen, which stole his childhood innocence and his faith in God’s mercy and justice.