Night

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Fire Symbol Analysis

Fire Symbol Icon
Madame Schächter's visions of fire, after she has gone mad during the train ride to Auschwitz, are symbolic of the Nazi's power to deliver death to many of the Jews riding with her in the cattle car. When the train arrives at the death camp, the prisoners see fire leaping from the chimneys of the crematoria, where many of them will be burned. Later, Eliezer sees babies and children thrown into a fire burning in a ditch. In many religious teachings fire has the power to cleanse or to erase evil. For instance, God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush before helping the Jews escape Egypt in Exodus. But in Eliezer's experience it is the Nazi's, not God, who wield the firepower, another example of how Eliezer's traditional concepts of justice and divinity are fundamentally altered by his experience during the Holocaust.

Fire Quotes in Night

The Night quotes below all refer to the symbol of Fire. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Having and Losing Faith in God Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Bantam Books edition of Night published in 1982.
Chapter 1 Quotes
Night. No one prayed, so that the night would pass quickly. The stars were only sparks of the fire which devoured us. Should that fire die out one day, there would be nothing left in the sky but dead stars, dead eyes.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire, Night
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an early indication of the fear that the Jews are facing as waves of deportations occur and people are reshuffled into worse and worse living quarters. Nobody knows what will happen to them and they shift between optimism and despair – this passage describes a night in which nobody hopes. At this moment, Eliezer has not yet lost his faith, but this is a sign of it waning; he and his community do not pray amid chaos because they don't want to prolong the awful night.

This passage illuminates the significance of two of the book's most prominent symbols. Here, night is seen as a time in which fear and despair dominate and faith is scant. Wiesel later described his life after the Holocaust as "one long night" – this moment, which Eliezer hopes will be temporary, is actually representative of an experience that will scar him profoundly and forever. Fire, too, is important here. While fire in religious texts is sacramental and even good, this passage shows fire as negative. To describe the fire as "consuming us" foreshadows the fires of the death camps.

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Chapter 2 Quotes
"Fire! I can see a fire! I can see a fire!"
Related Characters: Madame Schachter (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is another chilling indication of what is to come. As the Jews are crowded by the Nazis into a cattle car for their days-long journey to the camps, Madame Schachter loses her mind and begins screaming. This is the first sign of the effects of Nazi cruelty. Madame Schachter's reaction is, in a sense, prophetic – she says she sees fire and furnaces. Of course, the furnaces of Auschwitz are where many of these prisoners are headed.

As when Moché the Beadle returned home with seemingly unbelievable horror stories, though, the prisoners do not see truth in her words, and instead tie her up and gag her to keep her quiet. This is the first example Eliezer witnesses of the chain of cruelty that snakes through the camps. Nazi cruelty towards the Jews creates an atmosphere of fear and anger that causes the Jews to be cruel to one another. The more the Nazis treat the Jews as inhuman, the more the Jews are unable to care for one another. It is one of the worst legacies of Eliezer's time in the camps that, since the Nazis created the conditions in which the Jews would abuse one another, Eliezer is forced to feel guilt for the rest of his life. 

Chapter 3 Quotes
Humanity? Humanity is not concerned with us. Today anything is allowed. Anything is possible, even these crematories.
Related Characters: Eliezer, Chlomo
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Jews have just arrived at the concentration camp of Birkenau, and they are confronted with a scene worse than they could have imagined. They see flames everywhere, and the air smells like burning flesh. At this moment, they understand that death is surrounding them, but they still do not understand the magnitude of this depravity. Another prisoner tells Eliezer and his father that they are to be burned, and Eliezer tells him he doesn't believe it because humanity wouldn't tolerate burning someone as young as he is. The other prisoner's response is that humanity is not present there. 

It's significant that Eliezer objects to the possibility of being burned on the grounds that humanity, not God, wouldn't allow it; this is another indication that he is losing his faith. Watching the chaos around him, Eliezer seems not to assume anymore that God is a significant presence – he is more concerned with what humans will and won't do. 

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire, Night
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

On their first night in the camp, Eliezer and his father stand before the pits of flames in which babies and children are being burned alive. Neither one of them knows yet whether they will see the morning, or whether they also will be killed before sunrise. This is the major turning point of the book, in which Eliezer witnesses a scene so unimaginable and inhuman that he can no longer assume that a good and just God is looking after him or the world. 

Eliezer describes his loss of faith as turning his life into "one long night." Considering the place faith occupied in his life before the camps, it makes sense that the loss of it would leave him bereft intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. In the camps, there is nothing to replace faith with – nothing to study, no nourishing human interactions. Eliezer's loss of faith is synonymous with his dehumanization, in which he slowly becomes only a body in search of survival. Night, then, represents in part the void of positive influences to bolster him, and the darkness of not knowing what will come. 

Fire, too, is potent in this passage, and it is clear that its significance is negative. It is the fire transfiguring babies into "wreaths of smoke" and simultaneously devouring Eliezer's faith. Fire here is the evil of the Nazis – it is what burns away what is most cherished from Eliezer. 

Chapter 8 Quotes
Oh, to strangle the doctor and the others! To burn the whole world! My father's murderers! But the cry stayed in my throat.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker), Dr. Mengele
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book, Eliezer's father is very sick with dysentery and it's likely that he won't survive. The doctors refuse to give sick people food and won't treat his father, which inspires in Eliezer a murderous rage that, of course, he never acts on. This is one of the rare moments in the book when Eliezer expresses a fantasy that seems to echo Nazi behavior – he wants "to burn the whole world," which is what, it must have seemed to him, the Nazis were doing.

It's important that what brings these feelings out in him is witnessing cruelty towards his father, not cruelty directed towards Eliezer himself. This is another example of the importance of his relationship with his father. In a sense, his father has replaced religion as the emotional locus of his life; his father is essentially the only thing left that can provoke an emotional reaction in Eliezer. Still, this rage does not inspire Eliezer to actually act on his fantasies of avenging the Nazi cruelty, and so it forces Eliezer also to face his inability to defend his father.

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Fire Symbol Timeline in Night

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fire appears in Night. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Inhumanity Theme Icon
...hysterically. On the third night of the journey, she screams that she can see a fire and wakes everyone up. (full context)
Inhumanity Theme Icon
...son try to console Madame Schächter, but she continues to say that she can see fire, a furnace. The rest of the people's nerves are near the breaking point. Some young... (full context)
Chapter 3
Inhumanity Theme Icon
Fathers and Sons Theme Icon
Guilt and Inaction Theme Icon
...tells his father he will run towards the electric fence instead of dying in the fire. His father can only weep. Someone begins to recite the Jewish prayer for the dead—the... (full context)