Eliezer is more than just a traditional protagonist; his direct experience is the entire substance of Night. He tells his story in a highly subjective, first-person, autobiographical voice, and, as a result, we get an intimate, personal account of the Holocaust through direct descriptive language. Whereas many books about the Holocaust use a generalized historical or epic perspective to paint a broad picture of the period, Eliezer’s account is limited in scope but gives a personal perspective through which the reader receives a harrowingly intimate description of life under the Nazis.

First and foremost, it is important to differentiate between the author of Night, Elie Wiesel, and its narrator and protagonist, Eliezer. That a distinction can be made does not mean that Night is a work of fiction. Indeed, except for minor details, what happens to Eliezer is exactly what happened to Wiesel during the Holocaust. But Wiesel alters minor details (for example, Wiesel wounded his knee in the concentration camps, while Eliezer wounds his foot) in order to place some distance, however small, between himself and his protagonist. It is extremely painful for a survivor to remember and write about his or her Holocaust experience; creating a narrator allows Wiesel to distance himself somewhat from the trauma and suffering about which he writes.

Wiesel did not write Night merely to document historical truths about physical events. The memoir is concerned with the emotional truth about the Holocaust, as experienced by individuals. As Eliezer struggles for survival, his most fundamental beliefs—his faith in God, faith in his fellow human beings, and sense of justice in the world—are called into question. He emerges from his experience profoundly changed. The Holocaust shakes his faith in God and the world around him, and he sees the depths of cruelty and selfishness to which any human being—including himself—can sink. Through Eliezer, Wiesel intimately conveys his horrible experiences and his transformation as a prisoner during the Holocaust.

Read an analysis of the relationship between Eliezer and Shlomo.