Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for Night by Elie Wiesel that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of Night by Elie Wiesel in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Bearing Witness: The Power of the Memoir Genre
Night is just one of many memoirs written by Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust. Wiesel feels compelled to bear witness to the suffering that he experienced and observed in the concentration camps. In Night he narrates the experience of the deaths of his family members, the death of his adolescence, and the death in his naïve belief in man’s innate goodness. The power of the genre of the memoir is that it captures experience and insists that forgetting about such crimes against humanity is not an option, neither for Wiesel nor for the reader.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Death of Innocence and the Restoration of Hope
In Night, memoirist Elie Wiesel shares his most personal memories of the Holocaust, which he experienced directly and during which he lost his family and many friends. The pervasiveness of unparalleled evil perpetrated by the Germans against the Jews shattered young Elie’s hopefulness and his belief in the innate goodness of human beings. Although he could have retained that view throughout the remainder of his life, Night ultimately shows how Wiesel was eventually able to restore hope and optimism and belief in others and to live with the enormous burden of pain that he carries. The process that Wiesel endures in order to arrive at the restoration of hope is only hinted at, however. In the last line of the memoir, Wiesel alludes that the stare that is returned to him when he looks in a mirror compelled him to move forward in his life and to reject impulses of death.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Father-Son Relationships
One of the most painful situations and preoccupying thoughts that trouble young Elie involve the ways in which father-son relationships are torn asunder by the camps. He watches as sons deny—or at least consider denying—care to their fathers, putting their own interests before familial ties. Elie struggles with the same conflict when his father becomes ill, and when his father finally dies, Elie is profoundly sad though also proud that he never wholly compromised his own beliefs about family. The reason that Elie finds the deterioration of father-son relationships so painful is that the maintenance of this relationship seems to be the last barrier between a world that is semi-normal and one that has completely been turned upside down. Elie must continue to care for his ailing father because to do otherwise would mean that he had become as evil as the Germans.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Metaphor of Night
Wiesel’s memoir is simply titled Night. The literal time of night in the camps is not a period of rest or respite for the Jewish prisoners; instead, it is a continuation of the persistent anxiety and fear that are experienced during the day. At the same time, night does have some positive qualities, permitting the prisoners to talk with one another and attempt to hang onto the last vestiges of normal social interactions. Night also has a symbolic function, however. It is dark and obscure, a time when people with nefarious motives operate. To young Elie, the night feels never-ending. When he is finally liberated from the concentration camp, it is not clear whether the night has given way to day. Elie will have a long way to go to find his way to the light and the restoration of a somewhat normal life.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: Food
Food is understandably a major preoccupation among the prisoners in the concentration camp. Many episodes in the memoir involve food—either its lack, its inadequacy, or its use as a tool to stimulate desired behavior. In fact, over time the Jewish prisoners come to use food in much the same way that the Germans do. Although there are still Jewish prisoners who share their food with one another, some of the prisoners insist upon a survival strategy that Elie finds difficult to accept. That survival strategy involves hoarding one’s food and other limited material goods for oneself in an every-man-for-himself philosophy. When the camps are liberated, food remains an important objects, both a literal object and a symbolic signifier of all that has been taken from the Jews and all that they will need to do to nourish themselves to heal.
This list of important quotations from Night by Elie Wiesel will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Night by Elie Wiesel listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Elie Wiesel they are referring to.
“We settled in. (What a word!)." (20)
“A terrible thought crossed my mind: What if he had wanted to be rid of his father? He had felt his father growing weaker…had thought…to free himself of a burden that could diminish his own change for survival. It was good that I had forgotten all that." (91).
“One day when we had come to a stop, a worker took a piece of bread out of his bag and threw it into a wagon. There was a stampede. Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs. The worker watched the spectacle with great interest." (100)
“On my return from the bread distribution, I found my father crying like a child." (109)
“Listen to me, kid. Don’t forget that you are in a concentration camp. In this place, it is every man for himself, and you cannot think of others. Not even your father. In this place, there is no such thing as father, brother, friend. Each of us lives and dies alone." (110)
“I remained in Buchenwald until April 11. I shall not describe my life during that period. It no longer mattered. Since my father’s death, nothing mattered to me anymore." (113)
“I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I was out of tears. And deep inside me, if I could have searched the recesses of my feeble conscience, I might have found something like: Free at last!" (112)
“Our first act as free men was to throw ourselves onto the provisions. That’s all we thought about. No thought of revenge, or of parents. Only of bread." (115)
“From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me." (115)
Reference: Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972
Finally, in 1959, Arthur Wang of Hill & Wang agreed to take on “Night.” The first reviews were positive. Gertrude Samuels, writing in the Book Review, called it a “slim volume of terrifying power.” Alfred Kazin, writing in The Reporter, said Wiesel’s account of his loss of faith had a “particular poignancy.” After the Kazin review, the book “got great reviews all over America, but it didn’t influence the sales,” Wiesel said.
The trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 brought the Holocaust into the mainstream of American consciousness. Other survivors began writing their stories — but with higher visibility came the first glimmerings of criticism. In a roundup of Holocaust literature in Commentary in 1964, the critic A. Alvarez said “Night” was “beyond criticism” as a “human document,” but called it “a failure as a work of art.” Wiesel, he argued, had failed to “create a coherent artistic world out of one which was the deliberate negation of all values.”
By the early ’70s, the Holocaust had become a topic of study in universities, spurred in part by the rise of “ethnic studies” more generally and a surge of interest in Jewish history after Israel’s dramatic military victory in the Israeli-Arab wars of 1967 and 1973. Wiesel, who had moved to New York in the mid-’50s, began lecturing regularly at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan and teaching at the City University of New York. (Since 1976 he has taught at Boston University.)
Although his books were all reviewed respectfully, some critics questioned Wiesel’s role as a self-appointed witness. “His personal project has been to keep the wounds of Auschwitz open by repeatedly pouring the salt of new literary reconstructions upon them, and thus to prevent the collective Jewish memory — and his own — from quietly letting the wounds heal,” Leon Wieseltier, now the literary editor of The New Republic, wrote in Commentary in 1974. Reviewing Wiesel’s novel “The Oath,” about a pogrom, Wieseltier criticized Wiesel for “turning history into legend.” His characters were “archetypes of the varieties of Jewish pain,” Wieseltier wrote, so “what remains is ... a kind of elaborate superficiality which does justice neither to the author’s intentions nor to his terrible subject matter.”
In 1978, President Carter appointed Wiesel to a commission that eventually created the Holocaust Museum. In Wiesel’s mind, the “real breakthrough” that brought “Night” into wide view came in 1985, when he spoke out against President Reagan’s planned visit to the Bitburg military cemetery in Germany, where SS members were buried. While Reagan was awarding him a Congressional Gold Medal at the White House, Wiesel told him: “That place, Mr. President, is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS.” The next day, Wiesel’s words were on front pages worldwide. (Reagan still made the trip.)
Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the following year. The Nobel committee called Wiesel “a messenger to mankind,” teaching “peace, atonement and human dignity.” Wiesel’s “commitment, which originated in the sufferings of the Jewish people, has been widened to embrace all repressed peoples and races.” By the late ’90s, “Night” was a standard high school and college text, selling around 400,000 copies a year.
Yet some critics have homed in on the very qualities that have helped “Night” find a broad readership. Some have criticized Wiesel for universalizing — and even Christianizing — Jewish suffering. In “The Holocaust in American Life” (1999), the historian Peter Novick cites crucifixion imagery in “Night” as evidence of the “un-Jewish” or Christian tenor to much Holocaust commemoration. Others have suggested Wiesel may have revised the book to appeal to non-Jewish readers. In a 1996 essay, Naomi Seidman, a Jewish studies professor at Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union, detected strong notes of vengeance in the Yiddish version. In the final scene, after the camp has been liberated, Wiesel writes of young men going into Weimar “to rape German girls.” But there’s no mention of rape in the subsequent French or English translations. Wiesel said his thinking had changed between versions. “It would have been a disgrace to reduce such an event to simple vengeance.”
To Lawrence L. Langer, an eminent scholar of Holocaust literature and a friend of Wiesel’s, what sets “Night” apart is a moral honesty that “helps undermine the sentimental responses to the Holocaust.” To Langer, “Night” remains an essential companion — or antidote — to “The Diary of Anne Frank.” That book, with its ringing declaration that “I still believe that people are really good at heart,” is “easy for teachers to teach,” Langer said, but “from the text you don’t know what happened when she died of typhus, half-starved at Bergen-Belsen.” Wiesel takes a similar view. “Where Anne Frank’s book ends,” he said, “mine begins.”Continue reading the main story