Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Fire appears throughout Night as a symbol
of the Nazis’ cruel power. On the way to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Madame
Schächter receives a vision of fire that serves as a premonition
of the horror to come. Eliezer also sees the Nazis burning babies
in a ditch. Most important, fire is the agent of destruction in
the crematoria, where many meet their death at the hands of the
The role of fire as a Nazi weapon reverses the role fire
plays in the Bible and Jewish tradition. In the Bible, fire is associated
with God and divine wrath. God appears to Moses as a burning bush,
and vengeful angels wield flaming swords. In postbiblical literature, flame
also is a force of divine retribution. In Gehenna—the Jewish version
of Hell—the wicked are punished by fire. But in Night, it
is the wicked who wield the power of fire, using it to punish the
innocent. Such a reversal demonstrates how the experience of the
Holocaust has upset Eliezer’s entire concept of the universe, especially
his belief in a benevolent, or even just, God.
The Bible begins with God’s creation of the earth. When
God first begins his creation, the earth is “without form, and void;
and darkness [is] upon the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2,
King James Version). God’s first act is to create light and dispel
this darkness. Darkness and night therefore symbolize a world without
God’s presence. In Night, Wiesel exploits this
allusion. Night always occurs when suffering is worst, and its presence
reflects Eliezer’s belief that he lives in a world without God.
The first time Eliezer mentions that “[n]ight fell” is when his
father is interrupted while telling stories and informed about the
deportation of Jews. Similarly, it is night when Eliezer first arrives
at Birkenau/Auschwitz, and it is night—specifically “pitch darkness”—when
the prisoners begin their horrible run from Buna.