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 Nazis.
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.
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