The Profound Symbolism in Elie Wiesel's "Night"

Categories: Night By Elie Wiesel


Elie Wiesel's "Night" is a literary masterpiece that resonates with profound symbolism, imagery, and allegory, evoking a myriad of empathic and sympathetic emotions in readers. This essay explores the nuanced use of symbolism throughout the text, shedding light on its representation of the life of Jews during the Holocaust and the harrowing experiences of torture they endured.

The Symbolism of Night: Death, Darkness, and Loss of Faith

The recurring motif of "Night" in Wiesel's narrative transcends its literal meaning, becoming a powerful metaphor symbolizing death, darkness of the soul, and the loss of faith.

Night is omnipresent, even when scenes are set during the day, effectively reinforcing the haunting nature of the experiences described. Mrs. Schachter's visions of fire, hell, and death during the night journey to Auschwitz serve as a poignant example of this symbolism (Wiesel 24-27).

Elie and his father's arrival at Auschwitz, marked by the sight of smokestacks and a night-long wait in line with the pervasive smell of death, further underscores the symbolic weight of night (67).

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The metaphorical connotations of night are poignantly articulated by Elie himself: "The days were like nights, and the nights left the dregs of their darkness in our souls" (100). Night, in this context, becomes a representation of the soul's submersion in suffering and hopelessness, epitomizing the endless torture and death faced by the Jewish prisoners.

This metaphorical use of night prompts reflection on the dehumanization of the Jews during the Holocaust. The relentless pain and misery depicted in the narrative lead one to question the humanity afforded to these individuals.

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It raises a haunting query: would a dog, a creature of lesser perceived value, be subjected to such inhumane treatment?

The Disturbing Symbolism of Fire and Flames

The book introduces a disturbing symbolism associated with fire and flames, which becomes a recurring motif throughout the narrative. Mrs. Schachter's visions of fire as the train approaches Auschwitz prefigure the horrifying reality of the crematoria, where the bodies of prisoners are incinerated (24-27). The omnipresence of fire as a constant threat of death permeates the concentration camps, reminding the prisoners of their proximity to mortality.

Elie's poignant revelation, "My soul had been invaded-- and devoured—by a black flame," underscores the pervasive and destructive nature of fire in the prisoners' lives. The constant view and smell of the crematoria become integral aspects of their existence, stripping away any semblance of peace within the confines of the German empire.

Corporeal and Spiritual Death: Symbolism of Corpses

The imagery of corpses in "Night" serves a dual purpose, describing not only literal death but also symbolizing spiritual demise. After liberation, Elie gazes at himself in the mirror for the first time in months and sees a corpse (115). This powerful image reflects the horror he has experienced, stealing his childhood innocence and eroding his faith in God's mercy and justice.

This symbolic representation extends beyond physical appearance; it speaks to the profound impact of the Holocaust on the prisoners' humanistic characteristics. The narrative suggests a metaphorical death while still alive, akin to the existence of the "walking/living dead." The relentless degradation endured by the prisoners eventually leads to a state of living death, a condition no one could conceivably accept or reconcile with.

Conclusion: Unveiling Layers of Symbolism

Elie Wiesel's "Night" masterfully employs symbolism to convey the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust and the dehumanizing experiences of its victims. The metaphorical use of night, fire, and corpses adds layers of meaning to the narrative, inviting readers to contemplate the profound depths of human suffering and resilience. The exploration of these symbols serves as a testament to the enduring impact of Wiesel's work, urging us to reflect on the atrocities of history and the resilience of the human spirit.

Written by Liam Williams
Updated: Jan 18, 2024
Keep in mind: this is only a sample!
Updated: Jan 18, 2024
Cite this page

The Profound Symbolism in Elie Wiesel's "Night". (2016, Apr 28). Retrieved from

The Profound Symbolism in Elie Wiesel's "Night" essay
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