In Night, by Elie Wiesel, there is an underlying theme of anger. Anger not directed where it seems most appropriate- at the Nazis- but rather a deeper, inbred anger directed towards God. Having once been a role model of everything a “good Jew” should be, Wiesel slowly transforms into a faithless human being. He cannot comprehend why the God who is supposed to love and care for His people would refuse to protect them from the Germans. This anger grows as Wiesel does and is a constant theme throughout the book.
Early in Night, Elie Wiesel begins to express doubt about his faith.
Some talked of God, of his mysterious ways, …and of their future deliverance. But I had ceased to pray. How I sympathized with Job! I did not deny God’s existence, but I doubted His absolute justice. (42)
A good example of the mental shift occurring within Wiesel, this passage. Having grown up as a child of extreme faith in God and his divine power, this is a striking contrast of spiritual views. Young Wiesel once spent hours praying to God when he had very little concerns (especially when compared to his concerns in the concentration camp). Now that he is in a very trying time, one would think that his faith would be something he would desire to find comfort in. The tone of the first sentence almost sounds sarcastic- as if Wiesel thinks it odd that his people would even consider praying at all. He seems to view himself as being above all of that, not needing his faith- as he felt it could (or would) do nothing to help save him.
In Wiesel’s sympathizing with Job, I see a contradiction, however. Job was a man of tremendous faith in God who, even when everything (famine, pestilence, death of all of his family, disease, poverty) went wrong, he still had faith in God. Job never doubted that the Lord would sustain him and support him. While on the other hand, Wiesel has given up all hope that he will be rescued by his faith.
He has not stopped believing in God, however. Perhaps he has stopped believing in the particular God he has grown up worshiping. The last sentence shows us that he still believes that there is a God, he simply no longer trusts him. He feels as though his people have been betrayed and God is allowing the Jews to become victims for no apparent reason.
As Night progresses, Wiesel becomes increasingly more hostile towards God.
‘What are You, my God,’ I thought angrily, ‘compared to this afflicted crowd, proclaiming to You their faith, their anger, their revolt? What does Your greatness mean, Lord of the universe, in the face of all this weakness, this decomposition, and this decay? Why do You still trouble their sick minds, their crippled bodies?’ (63)
In this passage Wiesel has become more overtly angry with God. He no longer hides behind the reverence he has grown up knowing. Rather he is openly charging God with not only the destruction of the Jewish people, but also with continually plaguing their thoughts. Having the false hope that God may one day save them seems like a cruel joke. Wiesel seems to be saying that if God has already decided not to save them, than the least He can do is quit allowing the people to pray to and follow Him.
Wiesel also seems angry at the thought of comparing God’s infinite greatness with the complete disintegration of the people in the concentration camps. Thinking about God’s power and strength seems impossible when the only people surrounding Wiesel who are in positions of power are the enemy. It seems almost morbidly amusing that the Jews are relying on this Savior who allows such horrible conditions to continue. If he is so wonderful, why does he not save them?
Later in Night, Wiesel starts to believe that he has become a stranger among his own people and religion. He no longer feels any spiritual connection with the other Jewish people.
…Once I had believed profoundly that upon one solitary deed of mine, one solitary prayer, depended the salvation of the world.
This day I had ceased to plead. I was no longer capable of lamentation. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes were open and I was terribly alone- terribly alone in a world without God and without man. Without love or mercy. I had ceased to be anything but ashes, yet I felt myself to be stronger than the Almighty, to whom my life had been tied for so long. I stood amid that praying congregation, observing it like a stranger. (65)
The tone of the passage as a whole is not remarkably violent, but the words Wiesel uses are strong, nonetheless (perhaps even stronger than in the previous passages). The passage beings with the word “once.” This leads the reader to the understanding that Wiesel had believed something at some previous time, but no longer feels the same way. This can be compared to the following paragraph which begins “This day”(italics mine). This shows the distinction between an old and new Wiesel. Not only was he physically changing during this time, his emotional changes were causing a change in his belief system.
In this passage we see the inner reckoning of Wiesel to the conflict he has been fighting within himself. Until now, Wiesel has felt guilty about his growing distrust in God. Since childhood, the focus of the young boy’s life has been spiritual- and now he feels betrayed. He even goes as far as saying that he, the accuser, is accusing God himself.
Wiesel goes on to say that his was alone- “terribly alone.” There is nothing in this world- religion, man, love, mercy- except Wiesel himself. This is ironic, seeing that he and the other Jews were so tightly packed into first the ghetto, then the trains, finally the camps themselves. It would seem- physically, at least- that Wiesel was closer to more people at this point than ever before in his life. He tells us, however, that he feel as though he is terribly, terribly alone.
Wiesel talks of feeling that he is stronger than God. He sees those around him as being weak because of their need for God. Needing anything while in captivity can only make him weaker and more vulnerable. Because Wiesel feels abandoned and has calloused over his need for God, he feels stronger than the rest of the Jewish people- stronger even than the One they need.