Notes on Night Themes

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Night Topic Tracking: Night

Chapter 1

Night 1: Before the Germans arrive at Sighet, nighttime is for Elie a time of spiritual and physical renewal. It is a time of studying religious texts, of prayer, and of restful sleep. This comforting sense of night is forever lost as Elie experiences the horrible, dreadful nights of the concentration camps.

Night 2: Elie describes how in the ghetto, as his father was telling stories, "Night fell," foreshadowing the news of their deportation. The notion of "night" falling on the Jews becomes a running theme throughout the book. There are several instances where the phrase precedes some dreadful event.

Chapter 2

Night 3: Darkness characterizes the cattle train ride to Birkenau-Auschwitz. In the darkness, Madame Schachter goes out of her mind and yells incessantly about the fire, flames, and furnace. When she points and screams about the fire and flames, the other Jews see only darkness. Darkness is also a character of night that allows the young to flirt and people to relieve themselves without being seen.

Chapter 3

Night 4: The overwhelming sense of Elie's experiences during the first day of camp is that it is like a nightmare. As Elie and the other prisoners walk past the chimneys at Birkenau, they stand motionless, unable to comprehend the sights: "We stayed motionless, petrified. Surely it was all a nightmare? An unimaginable nightmare?" (Chapter 3, pg. 28) Elie thinks he's dreaming. After pinching his face, in disbelief he utters, "How could it be possible for them to burn people, children, and for the world to keep silent? No, none of this could be true. It was a nightmare...." (Chapter 3, pg. 30)

That first night of camp is forever etched into Elie's mind. His entire narrative story seems like an account of one long, endless night: "So much had happened within such a few hours that I had lost all sense of time. When had we left our houses? And the ghetto? And the train? Was it only a week? One night-one single night?" (Chapter 3, pg. 34)

Chapter 5

Night 5: The impression of "last nights" anchors the timeframe of Elie's narrative. There are numerous instances of last nights: the last night at home; the last night in the ghetto; the last night on the train; the last night at Buna.

Night 6: "Night" carries with it the notion of uncertainty and fear. Short of representing death, night becomes an imagery of the unknown. As Elie and the other prisoners prepare to leave Buna, there is a greater fear of what is to come: "The gates of the camp opened. It seemed that an even darker night was waiting for us on the other side." (Chapter 5, pg. 80)

Chapter 7

Night 7: One night, on the winter trek to Buchenwald, Elie is almost strangled to death by an unknown attacker. Elie does not know the reason for the attack. Night brings out the worst dangers.

The nights become bleaker as the narrative progresses. Thus, Elie detests the "long nights" of the winter: "We were all going to die here. All limits had been passed. No one had any strength left. And again the night would be long." Chapter 7, pg. 98

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