Elie Wiesel’s literary memoir Night is a harrowing account of a Jewish teenager’s experiences in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Structured around horrifying, semi-autobiographical events from Wiesel’s life, the first-person narrative explores the impact of those events on its protagonist, Eliezer, who loses both his innocence and faith in God and human beings.

As the work opens, Eliezer, a devout Jew living in a devout community, hears of Nazi atrocities from Moishe the Beadle. Both Eliezer and his community are unwilling to believe that human beings might be so cruel or that God would permit such things to occur. Soon, in the inciting incident, however, they begin to understand the truth. The Germans move into Sighet, where Jewish valuables are seized, community leaders are arrested, and Jewish men and women are forced to wear yellow stars before being forced into barbed wire ghettos.

As the rising action unfolds, Eliezer struggles to maintain his faith in both God and human beings. Deportations begin, and Jews are loaded into train cars bound for Auschwitz. The doors are nailed shut, the cars are hot, and the prisoners suffer from thirst. They begin to lose concern and compassion for each other, a point gaining symbolic emphasis when the prisoners gag and beat Madame Schächter for her terrified screams that a furnace awaits them. During the trip, Eliezer sees the chimneys and furnaces of Birkenau, smells the odor of burning flesh, and is subject to a “selection” by Dr. Mengele. When the prisoners approach a pit of burning bodies, they weep and recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. Eliezer’s father admits doubts about human beings, saying that humanity is nonexistent; Eliezer reveals that he is losing faith in God. He struggles with the prayer and cannot understand what he has to thank God for. 

Eliezer’s internal conflict, as the rising action continues, grows. He and his father are forced to endure horrific conditions in the camps. They are dehumanized, stripped, assigned prisoner’s uniforms, and moved to Buna. There, they endure unimaginable cruelties, including unprovoked beatings at the hands of the Kapo. They witness people being shot for sneaking food and see a child hanged for having been a servant to a resistance member. Eliezer, as he reflects on that hanging, openly admits his loss of faith: a just God, he thinks, cannot exist in such a world; he concludes that God has been murdered on those gallows. Later, when the Jews in the camp celebrate Rosh Hashanah, he cannot find a reason to bless God in the midst of the suffering, and he decides that Jews cannot be God’s chosen people after all. On Yom Kippur, a day of fasting to atone for sins, he eats. Other prisoners have begun losing faith as well.

At the book’s climax, Eliezer’s conflict reaches its greatest level of tension. Buna has been evacuated before advancing Russian troops arrive. The prisoners have been forced on a long death march in the cold; they have been loaded into roofless cattle cars headed to Buchenwald; and for ten days and nights, they have lived only on snow. Locals have tossed them bread, only to watch the prisoner’s fight each other for the tiniest morsels. When they arrive, a mere twelve of the 100 prisoners are still alive. Eliezer’s father, sick with dysentery, dies and is taken to the crematory. Eliezer feels relief, not grief, over his father’s death. He is left feeling empty and alone, his faith in God and human beings, and even faith in himself, is lost.

As the book concludes, American forces liberate the camp, which should be cause for celebration. Eliezer, however, seeing himself in a mirror, sees only a “corpse.” This view offers more insight into Eliezer than his appearance alone; his loss of faith has left him metaphorically dead. The consequences of the experience have been profound for Eliezer and the other prisoners. They have been physically liberated, yet they are scarred for life. The survivors are left to grapple with trauma and guilt, struggling to find meaning in a world that might permit such atrocities to occur.