I was in AP English classes throughout high school. The benefit of this is that I got to read a lot of challenging, complex works – books like Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Brave New World, which made tremendous contributions to my love of literature. The downside is that I missed out on a lot of books that were “simpler,” so they were taught in lower-level English classes, but not AP. I’ve been trying to fill in these gaps over the last few years, and Night is one of the books that came up on my list.
It’s hard to contribute anything original to the conversation about this book. Everything that has been said is true. It is heartbreaking and horrifying. It is written in sparse, simple prose, which sometimes makes it even more difficult to truly comprehend the atrocities that the book describes: “Yes, I did see this, with my own eyes . . . children thrown into the flames” (ellipses original). If the words were more flowery or burdened with tortured metaphor, somehow it would be easier to take it all in.
One of the things that struck me is that throughout the book, Wiesel noted that the people around him were in disbelief that something like this was truly happening. At the beginning of the book, the disbelief he describes seems to be at least somewhat genuine. By the end of the book, the instances that he points out are always noted to be some kind of coping mechanism – if we think this can’t be happening, or that things will get better, we’ll be prepared for the worst.
Yes, many of us are familiar with the atrocities of the Holocaust, and other genocides. Yes, we have an emotional reaction to what occurred. But this disbelief reminded me that the people who suffered in these camps were real human beings in the real world, not cardboard figures. They had the same emotions that we would have if something like this occurred in our community today. Night humanizes the Holocaust in ways that I had not encountered before.