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Wiesel, Elie. (1982). Night. New York: Bantam Books. 109 pp.

Grade Level: 10-12

Genre: nonfiction

Summary and Critique

    In this memoir-turned-novel, Elie Wiesel portrays his life as a Jewish teenager during the Holocaust. The novel chronicles the steps taken to eradicate the Jewish people from Europe, from the first oppression by Hungarian police, to the concentration camps of Birkenau, Auschwitz, and Buchenwald, and finally to the arrival of the American troops. Throughout each concentration camp, Wiesel describes his anguish due to the death of his family, the death of his people, and the death of his God, as well as successfully portraying the inhumanity of what he was forced to face. He tackles questions of his faith, and his loyalty to his father, who dies at the last camp.

    Wiesel is blunt in his description of the camps, and includes details as disturbing as babies being burned alive. More than just a description of the Holocaust, Night offers a powerful glimpse into the human psyche, and touches multiple times on the issues of faith, betrayal, and guilt. While this text could be easily read by middle-school students, it remains popular in high schools, and with adults, due to the powerful images. Students must approach this text with a certain maturity in order to fully understand and comprehend what they are reading. Critics have praised Wiesel's book for its honesty, powerful language, and for its ability to remind us that this must never happen again.

Themes/Topics

    Families

    Generations

    Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

    Challenges and Triumphs

    War and Peace

    The Holocaust

    Individual vs. Society

Author Information

Elie Wiesel was born in Sighet, Transylvania. At the age of fifteen he was deported with his family to Auschwitz. When the war ended, Wiesel studied in Paris and later became a journalist. While he was giving an interview, the author was persuaded to write about his experiences during the Holocaust. The product was La Nuit, or Night, which has been translated into over thirty different languages. Wiesel followed up Night with two novels, Dawn, and The Accident, which was later entitled Day, and published with the other two in what is commonly known as The Night Trilogy. For his efforts, Wiesel has received multiple awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and the Medal of Liberty Award, and the rank of Grand-Croix in the French Legion of Honor. He was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. Wiesel is currently the Andrew Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University.

For more information on Elie Wiesel:

Media Connections

Movies

    American History X (1998) A harrowing tale that deals with racism in modern day America. Derek is a neo-Nazi who is reformed in prison, only to be released and find his younger brother following in his footsteps. The movie is rated R for violence and sexuality, but certain clips can be pulled out to make a point in classrooms.

    Bamboozled (2000) This movie follows the rise and fall of a modern-day minstrel show. The minstrel show was supposed to be a comment on race relations in the US, but instead it becomes a massive and misunderstood hit.

    Finding Nemo (2003) In this undersea picture, Nemo is captured by a scuba diver, and Marlin, his father, braves the ocean to find him. A good film that deals with family relationships, especially that of father and son.

    Frida (2003) This movie chronicles the life of Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo. Salma Hayek portrays this gifted outsider who endures a life of pain. The movie displays her childhood, all the way up to her premature death.

    Schindler's List (1993) The story of a Catholic war profiteer who risked his life and went bankrupt in order to save over 1,000 Jews.

    The Pianist (2003) The story of a Polish Jew who manages to elude the Nazis and survive in the abandoned ghetto that used to be his home.

    Television

    The Simpsons (FOX) Any episode. A strangely honest portrayal of a familial and community relationships.

    Family Matters (in syndication) Any episode. A sit-com that examines family relationships.

Music

    "Ebony and Ivory." Written by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder—Song Review: Greatest Hits. Motown, 1996. Song about the racial tension of modern times.

Online Resources

    http://www.holocaustsurvivors.org/ An excellent Web site on Holocaust survivors that includes stories (both written and oral), photographs, and an encyclopedia to answer any other questions you might have.

    http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/holocaust/ A wonderful Web site full of Holocaust resources for teachers, including photographs, documents, art, movies, music, and literature.

    http://inside.bard.edu/academic/specialproj/darling/adolesce.htm This Web site includes many links to articles that cover a wide range of issues in regard to adolescents. These issues include: social transitions, family change, family influences, peer groups, peer victimization, and bullying.

    http://ianrpubs.unl.edu/family/nf211.htm This Web site gives a great amount of background information on adolescents and peer pressure. If you were to use Night to address such a topic, this Web site would be an excellent resource to brush up on the facts. It also gives suggestions on how to avoid peer pressure.

    http://www.racismnoway.com.au/ This Web site is directed towards schools in Australia and has many resources for teachers. It includes games and lesson ideas that bring awareness about racism into the classroom.

    http://history.acusd.edu/gen/ww2Timeline/start.html This Web site offers a timeline of events that occurred before, during, and after World War II. This is a good place for acquainting oneself with the background knowledge that is necessary to teach Night.

    http://www.euronet.nl/users/wilfried/ww2/ww2.htm This Web site discusses the events of World War II. This site is broken down into dates, but it also includes related sites and links to many WWII museums and monuments.

Related Texts

    Kincaid, Jamaica. (1985). Annie John. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux. 148pp. In this novel by Jamaica Kincaid, young Annie John begins her journey into adolescence, realizing that her family is not the perfect one she had imagined. This novel circles around an estranged mother/daughter relationship, and ends with Annie moving away from everything that is comfortable to her.

    Strasser, Todd. (1981). The Wave. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf. Based on a true story, a California history teacher demonstrates the power of peer pressure and brainwashing through a psychological experiment with his students.

    Wright, Richard. (1945). Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth. Cleveland: World Publishing Company. 228pp. In his autobiography, Richard Wright chronicles the pain and suffering he underwent growing up in rural Mississippi, and later, Memphis, Tennessee. Wright explains the experiences he was forced to undergo because of his race.

    Filipovic, Zlata. (1994). Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo. Trans. Christina Probichevich-Zoric. New York: Viking. 200pp. Zlata is a ten-year old Croatian girl, who gives a graphic, firsthand rendition of life in wartime Sarajevo.

    Houston, James D., and Jeanne Houston. (1973). Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 177pp. This is the true story of one Japanese-American family's attempt to survive internment during World War II. Geared toward young adults, this novel paints a vivid picture of an episode of American history that many wish to forget.

    Boas, Jacob. (1995). We Are Witnesses: The Diaries of Five Teenagers Who Died in the Holocaust. New York: Henry Holt. 196pp. This book contains the diaries of Jewish teenagers David, Yitzhak, Moshe, Eva, and Anne, all of whom died in the same camp Anne Frank was sent to. This book gives another look at first-hand occurrences in the concentration camps of the Holocaust.

    Gallo, Donald R., ed. (1993). Join In: Multiethnic Short Stories. New York: Delacorte. 256pp. This book is a collection of short stories that focus on ethnic Teens and their experiences. The issues addressed range from taking the SATs to finding friends.

    Soto, Gary. (1990). A Fire in My Hands: A Book of Poetry. New York: Scholastic. 63pp. In this collection, Soto reflects on being a father and growing up as a Mexican-American in California.

    Marcus, Leonard S. (1994). Lifelines: A Poetry Anthology Patterned on the Stages of Life. New York: Dutton Books. 116pp. This anthology groups poems into the different stages of life: childhood, adolescence, middle age, and old age. These poems are mostly contemporary, but some contain poetry from well-known, classical authors.

Teaching Ideas

    (1)"Thank-You Letters" Have students brainstorm three people in their lives to whom they owe thanks and why. Write a letter to these people answering the following questions: What did these three people contribute to your life? What type of person did they help you become? What have they taught you about life? For an interesting twist, have them do this from Elie's point of view.

    [Summarized/adapted from "Thank-You Essay" by Judy Morton in Ideas Plus Book 18. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, pp. 21-22.]

    (2)"Poetry About Parents" With your students, review rhetorical devices often used in poetry. Then go over certain poems that deal with a parent-child relationship, such as: "Mnemonic" by Li-Young Lee, "Fathers" by Robert Creeley, "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath, and "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke. After having poems such as these for examples, ask students to write a poem about one of their parents. You can also find songs or TV shows that deal with parent-child relationships and respond to them. Once again, for a technique that relates directly to Night, you could have them write a poem from Elie's point of view about his father, perhaps one dealing with Elie's guilt.

    [Summarized/adapted from "Parents Poetry" by Kathryn Symmes in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. April, 2003, pp. 5-6.]

    (3)"A Character's Mandala" For this lesson idea, go to the Web site www.mandali.com for a blank mandala and the correlating color chart. Using these tools, students can think about a character and express their ideas in a new, inventive way. Students consider their character and color in the mandala to represent their character, using the color chart. For instance, you would use the color gray to represent security, reliability, and dignity. You would use white to represent purity, black to represent evil, etc. Students color in the mandala using colors that best represent their character.

    [Summarized/adapted from "Character Mandala" by Fran Bullington in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. January, 2004, pp. 6-7.]

    (review written by Amanda Henderson and edited by Jennifer E. Moore)

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