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Fathers and Sons Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Having and Losing Faith in God Theme Icon
Inhumanity Theme Icon
Fathers and Sons Theme Icon
Guilt and Inaction Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Night, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Fathers and Sons Theme Icon

As his family is being marched from its home, Eliezer sees his father weep for the first time. By the end of the book, his father is dead, another victim of the Nazi death camps. In between, Night explores the ways traditional father-son relationships break down under impossibly difficult conditions. At the heart of this theme is Eliezer's relationship with his own father. Yet the narrator also pays attention to other father-son relationships among the prisoners in the camps; his observations of other fathers and sons make him think about his duties to his own father.

In normal life, before the Holocaust began, Eliezer's father has great respect in the community and within Eliezer's house. The relationship of father to son is traditional—the biblical commandment to honor one's parents is paramount in Jewish families like Eliezer's. After the family is split up at Birkenau, Eliezer and his father have only each other to live for. As his father weakens, the traditional roles of protector and protected are reversed. It is Eliezer who must protect his father.

During their time in the camps, Eliezer time and again feels shame when he is angry at his father for not being able to avoid beatings or for not being able to march correctly. His father continues to look out for him—he gives Eliezer a few tools to keep when it looks like he will be taken away, and he rouses a neighbor to save his son when someone on the train begins to strangle Eliezer. But there's a limit to how much either can shield the other from hardship. And as conditions become more and more impossible, and the physically weaker and older begin to die, fathers become burdens—first to the consciences of sons, who feel guilty about their own survival instincts and their inability to protect their fathers, and then physical burdens, too. Eliezer sees an illustration of this in the death march to Gleiwitz when a young man leaves behind his tired father, a rabbi; and again on the train to Buchenwald, when a son kills his father while fighting for a morsel of bread. These instances of the disintegration of basic familial bonds help remind Eliezer of his love and duty to his own father. By the end of the book, though, his feelings hardly matter. Eliezer's father grows sick, doctors won't help, and Eliezer is simply unable to take care of or prevent others from harming his father.

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Fathers and Sons ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Fathers and Sons appears in each chapter of Night. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Fathers and Sons Quotes in Night

Below you will find the important quotes in Night related to the theme of Fathers and Sons.
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. 


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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 4 Quotes
Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
"Where is God now?"
And I heard a voice within me answer him:
"Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows. . . . "
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Eliezer and the other prisoners are required to witness public executions of Jews who have disobeyed the Nazis. This is a cruel and inhuman tactic that the Nazis used to instil fear and discipline in the Jewish prisoners. While Eliezer witnessed many public executions, the most memorable one was the execution of a young boy. When another prisoner asks "Where is God now?" in the face of this spectacle, Eliezer realizes that he has entirely lost his faith. Not only does he not believe in the goodness of God, he no longer believes in God's existence at all.

Throughout the book, it is witnessing acts of inhumanity towards children that most affects Eliezer. Eliezer grew up expecting to be protected by his father and by his family; his community respected children, and it was a given for him that he would be safe because others were watching. It is witnessing the Nazi disregard for the dignity and vulnerability of children that most terrifies Eliezer, because it signifies a breakdown of the most fundamental social order, and it drives home Eliezer's own vulnerability and isolation. The execution of the young boy by the Nazis is, to Eliezer, something that could only happen in a world with no God. 

Chapter 7 Quotes
The last day had been the most murderous. A hundred of us had got into the wagon. A dozen of us got out—among them, my father and I.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker), Chlomo
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout Night, the attrition of human lives has been startling. Wiesel describes, over and over, the numbers of people who did not survive each step of their journey. This last day of the train trip had abysmally low survival rates, but somehow – against all odds – Eliezer and his father are still alive when they reach their destination.

The bond between Eliezer and his father is one of the only human elements that remains as the book gets darker and more desperate, and we get the sense that, even while their commitment to one another slows them down and forces them into risky situations, the love between Eliezer and his father is one of the only things keeping them alive. The importance of this love is emphasized by Meir Katz's decision to stay with the dead on the train (which essentially amounts to suicide). Despite the fact that Katz is one of the strongest men, his grief for his dead son makes him unable to continue.

Chapter 8 Quotes
"Don't let me find him! If only I could get rid of this dead weight, so that I could use all my strength to struggle for my own survival, and only worry about myself." Immediately I felt ashamed of myself, ashamed forever.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker), Chlomo
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

After everything Eliezer and his father have been through, Eliezer still feels impulses to abandon his father to increase his own odds of survival. This moral conflict is at the heart of the book, and despite Eliezer's shame at his own feelings, his ability to feel conflicted at all about his father indicates that he still has some humanity left.

While Eliezer is never outright cruel to his father like some sons are in the camps, he often feels that his inaction in the face of others' cruelty to his father and his secret desires to be rid of his father are just as bad. It's a conflict that the book never resolves. While Eliezer's inaction and secret feelings are understandable in the face of the incredible risks and sacrifices that protecting his father would entail, Wiesel never allows himself to fully justify his actions. He holds himself accountable to what he sees as his own moral failings, even though those failings were provoked by unimaginable cruelty towards him.

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.

Bending over him, I stayed gazing at him for over an hour, engraving into myself the picture of his blood-stained face, his shattered skull.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker), Chlomo
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Eliezer's father is near death here after one of the guards hit him on the head with a truncheon simply because he wouldn't stop asking for water. Eliezer knows there is nothing he can do to save his father's life at this point, so he tries to memorize his father's face, not neglecting the blood, broken skull, and suffering. While Wiesel does not elaborate on the meaning or purpose of this act, we get the sense that this is, however private and silent, a way of honoring his father. Death has lost almost all meaning to Eliezer (he forgets to pray for a dead friend, he barely notices that so many Jews are going without proper burial) but with his father's death, he clearly feels that he needs to bear witness to his father's suffering.

Even if he can't draw meaning from from his father's death now, Eliezer seems to want to cement his father's face in his memory so that he might be able to draw meaning from it later. This is a quiet act of humanity in the face of incredible cruelty, and it shows both how important Eliezer's father was to him, and also how little capacity for emotion he has left.