Discussion Questions

To The Reader: How to use the guided response questions

Before you Read
Initial Thoughts and Emotions
Understanding Others
Formulating Questions
Identity
Selfishness vs. Selflessness
Loss
Humanity and the Holocaust
Dehumanization
Self-Destructive Hate
Deindividuation
Banality of Evil
Where Are You Now?
Man's Search for Meaning

Before you read
1) Before we even open a book, our minds begin to engage and to make assumptions. As you look at Night, think about and make journal entries on the following: What images and emotions does the title evoke? Does the picture on the book make an impression on you, how so? Have you heard anything about Night, or its author Elie Wiesel? How does the fact that this book has been given to you as an assignment affect you before you begin reading?

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Initial Thoughts and Emotions
2) In your journal, briefly describe your initial responses to reading Night for the first time. What thoughts went through your mind as you followed young Elie on his journey? What emotional responses did reading about his experiences provoke in you? You may include quotes and passages from the book to illustrate your point, or to illustrate how the author responded to specific experiences. Remember: Think in terms of both critical thinking and critical feeling.

3) What was your emotional reaction to the book? What did you first get out of reading the book?

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Understanding Others
4) Do you think other people can ever really understand what the author experienced in the concentration camp? If someone asked you to describe exactly what you think Elie Wiesel thought and felt while living in the camps, how would you do so?


5) What does it mean to "understand" another person, or to "understand" what another person is going through? What is it in life that allows us to "understand" others more completely and/or more accurately? Did reading Night help you to understand more about others, and/or about life?

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Formulating Questions
6) Elie Wiesel has stated, "My whole life, my whole work, has been devoted to questions, not to answers." Having read Night, formulate several questions that you think might be of paramount importance to Wiesel:

7) Assume that you were asked to write some questions or raise some issues about Night to be used in an informal discussion group. What questions or issues would you raise?

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Identity
8) Wiesel opens Night with this sentence: "They called him Moshe the Beadle, as though he had never had a surname in his life" (1960: 1). With no surname, a problem especially within Judaism, Moshe's "Identity" is in question. As a writer, Wiesel often makes an explicit link between the first sentence and concluding sentence of a text. These are the two sentences that conclude Night: "From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me" (1960: 109). A major theme connects beginning to end: the drama of identity, as it plays itself out through a lived story. In this final sentence, it is Elie who looks into the mirror and does not recognize who is looking back. Having read his story, why do think "identity" is such an issue for Wiesel? In considering your response, try to connect the issue to your own life: How do you define your own sense of identity? What parts of social life are key to your sense of identity? (e.g., Religious beliefs? Political beliefs? Groups with which you affiliate? Family values that you hold? And so on.)

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Selfishness vs. Selflessness
9) Throughout the last few days of his father's life, Wiesel is tormented by the guilt he feels over his inability to help his father more than he does, and for secretly wanting to feed himself before feeding his father. During this time, Wiesel is told: "Every man has to fight for himself and not think of anyone else· Everyone lives and dies for himself alone (1960:105)." Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not? A popular rendition of the statement in our society is that every person should "pull himself up by his own bootstraps." To what extent do you agree with this statement? To what extent do you think many persons in our society adhere to this slogan or similar ones?

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Loss
10) Wiesel painstakingly describes his experience of "loss"-the loss of his family, his homeland, his home, his childhood, and most significantly, his God. When a person is asked, "what makes life worth living," attachment to one or more of the above is often noted. What attachments in life most contribute to your sense of meaning? How do you think you would react to the loss of one or more (or all) of these attachments? How is a person to find, discover, or create meaning in life after an experience of profound loss, as Wiesel experienced?

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Humanity and the Holocaust
11) When reading Wiesel's experience of Night and reflecting on the massive devastation caused by Hitler's project, it is tempting to isolate the Holocaust-to cling to a blind hope that humanity "has come a long way since then," that humanity will affirm with one voice: "Never again." In our college courses, however, we learn about Rwanda in the mid-1990's, of the mass graves found in Bosnia and Kosovo, of the current plight of the millions in Sudan who are starving, and of the current plight of millions of orphans and children around the world. What does it take for a person to become socially aware? To understand the world around her? Is it enough to read the newspaper or watch the news now and again?

12) When studying the history of ideas, we learn that the European Enlightenment set us on a course wherein religion (based on "faith") has been supplanted by science (based on "reason" and "data"). Surely this should have led to an "intellectual enlightened humanity" completely incompatible with the Holocaust. Why did the modern, "scientific" age fail to prevent a Holocaust? Why did genocides continue even after our knowledge of Auschwitz? Is there some attribute(s) that individuals seem to be lacking that allows such massive devastation to continue? Put another way, do you see the Holocaust primarily in terms of a failure of reason? A failure of sufficient data? Or a failure of emotion/values?

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Dehumanization
13) It has been said that the one belief most responsible for the bloodshed of countless individuals through history is this one: "Those who do not share my faith (or race or religion or political ideology) do not share my humanity; 'they' are different than 'us' and thus not 'human' in the same way we are." What do think and feel about this way of looking at life and others? Why, do you think, does it seem so difficult to appreciate human differences? Do you think that this tendency is inborn, or do we learn to devalue the "other"? Does education play some role in reversing the tendency to devalue those who are different from me, from "my kind"? How does education (if it plays as role at all) make a difference in how we perceive and treat others?

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Self-Destructive Hate
14) Once a person reaches the "Those (others) are not (really) human" stage, it is quite easy to detest them-to hate them-and yet still perceive oneself as "good." In his discussions of the anatomy of hate, Elie Wiesel observes that anti-Semites hate all Jews-those that were born yesterday and those that will be born tomorrow; in hating all Jews they thus hate people whom they've never even met. So, asks Wiesel: "What do they hate when they hate, and whom do they hate when they hate?" Ultimately, Wiesel argues, this hatred is not only destructive, but self-destructive. Do you think hatred is both destructive and self-destructive? Why or why not? How do we come to hate certain groups? And once we give in to hate, how would we answer Wiesel's question: "What do you hate when you hate, and whom do you hate when you hate?"

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Deindividuation
15) You might wonder how the Nazis and other Germans could possibly have carried out the horrific acts demanded of them, even if they did in fact learn to hate the Jews. Some scholars would explain their collaboration in terms of "deindividuation:" a loss of individuality as one becomes submerged in the group, which leads to lessened self awareness and weakened restraint against harmful acts. Can you think of instances when you experienced a reduced self-awareness due to membership in a cohesive group? Others scholars focus on the excuse given by many persons who went along with the horrific massacres: "I was only following orders." At what point do persons bear a responsibility for their own actions, even when ordered to commit an act by a "legitimate authority?"

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Banality of Evil
16) Perhaps the concept of deindividuation can give partial understanding to why groups commit harmful acts, but what about the people who lead others into collaboration in acts of evil and hatred? Often we immediately think that something must be inherently "wrong" or "different" about someone who could mastermind such horrific acts. However, scholars often use the phrase "banality of evil" to indicate that, rather than being something extra ordinary, the propensity for evil is something ordinary and common place in human beings. Consider this: Adolf Hitler wanted to be a painter, but he could not gain admission to art school. How is it possible that this same man could have led the Holocaust? Is evil derived from inherent traits or life circumstances? What circumstances might have lead Hitler (or might lead any person) to commit acts of hatred?

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