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The Accident Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 47 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Accident.
This section contains 976 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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The Accident Summary & Study Guide Description

The Accident Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Related Titles and a Free Quiz on The Accident by Elie Wiesel.

The Accident is the story of a holocaust survivor struggling to adjust to life after World War II. The main character is a journalist whose own experiences during the holocaust have left him, like many others, with a strong sense of despair and self-loathing such that he finds it impossible to find any satisfaction in life. Despite the efforts of his girlfriend and others, he finds himself withdrawing from life. The title of the novel refers to an accident that occurs when he is hit by a cab, while on his way to the theatre. This accident sets off a series of memories that take the reader through the protagonist's psychological and emotional struggles as he grapples with his urge to end his life while simultaneously recovering from a near-death experience. The original French title of the book was Le Jour (Day), and it follows the author's two previous works: Dawn and Night.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote the novel, which was published the novel in 1961. The main character, who is without a name throughout the bulk of the novel, is a journalist living in New York City. The Accident tells the tale of how the protagonist finds himself in the hospital after being hit by a cab while walking to the theatre one night with his girlfriend, Kathleen. He is badly injured and spends the next several weeks recovering in the hospital.

From the protagonist's hospital bed, he remembers his first encounter with Kathleen, a beautiful dark-haired woman whom he first met while living in Paris, years earlier. Kathleen speaks French with a strong American accent; she is not a holocaust survivor. Still, she is struggling with many of the same issues the main character struggles with.

Born in America, Kathleen escaped the holocaust, whereas our protagonist has lived through it. Still, the guilt the protagonist feels at being left alive while so many perished is somehow akin to the guilt Kathleen feels at having been born in a place where she managed to escape it altogether. History has left them both bereft of any sense of normalcy. His own first-hand experiences with fear, persecution, torture, death and humiliation have left the protagonist unable to take at face value the more humane and beautiful aspects of humanity, so maimed is he emotionally and psychologically by the brutality of the holocaust. It is not only his suffering that has left him bereft. He is struggling to come to terms with his own actions in the face of such brutality.

As for Kathleen, she is acutely aware of the suffering of millions just like the protagonist, suffering that she escaped not because of who she is, but simply because of where she was born. This causes her to experience a level of guilt not unlike the guilt her boyfriend experiences.

The main character's guilt, both at surviving the holocaust and at his own reaction to it, causes him to feel a sense of despair coupled with such intense self-loathing that he finds it difficult to embrace life. In the course of the novel, it comes out that the protagonist is actually aware of the presence of the cab that is careening towards him on the night of the accident. In fact, he is not only aware of it. He allows it to hit him.

The reason for the protagonist's seemingly incomprehensible willingness to welcome his own death is brought out in the preface to the novel. After the holocaust, Wiesel tells us, many of the Jewish children in Poland were unable to embrace life. "They had known how to fight hunger, conquer fear, and outmaneuver the myriad perils that had plagued them during the reign of Night. But once the world had more or less returned to 'normal,' they gave up." The painful awareness of the extent to which the horrors of the holocaust had depleted them, coupled with the feeling that they had been both vanquished and stigmatized, left them feeling so completely alone that they no longer had a reason to live. Such appears to be the fate of the protagonist in the novel.

As the protagonist heals from his injuries, while in the hospital, he revisits his past as a holocaust survivor. He struggles with feelings of guilt and anguish over the death of his grandmother, sister and parents. He recalls how he was abandoned on a train platform while he watched his family being hauled away. He is acutely aware of the guilt he feels as a result of the fact that he has survived while countless others perished. He is also horrified and shamed by the behavior he resorted to when the brutality he was subjected to brought him to the point where he was willing to sacrifice others to ensure his own survival.

In the end, the protagonist comes to realize, with the help of an artist friend, that he has failed the very people he loved most by living in the past, rather than embracing his own future. In a symbolic gesture of great emotional impact, he watches as his dearest friend, also a survivor, takes the portrait he has painted of our protagonist and burn it. In that moment, our protagonist realizes that the empty soul, represented by the portrait, is being murdered right before his eyes - not to bring death, but to release him from the guilt and shame that has kept him from embracing life.

The pile of ashes left by the burned effigy of the protagonist will now free him to become whole again. He no longer has to kill himself. He has already done it. Now he can release his own ashes into the cold night air where they will mingle with his grandmother's, and perhaps this will provide the release that will finally allow him to live again.

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