Progressive Deterioration of Identity – Polished Critical

Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the role adversity plays in shaping an individual’s identity.


     An individual’s identity consists of a vast array of traits and elements that are impacted and shaped by the experiences one has throughout their life. Though many such experiences enlighten and feed the mind, allowing the transition from an innocent child to a mature adult to be fulfilling and nourishing to one’s identity, this is not always the case. Individuals are often faced with adversity that challenges this growth process, and causes their reality to instead be detrimental to their body, mind, and ultimately, their identity, as vital nourishment is restricted. In turn, said individual inevitably attempts to possess any sense of being they can grasp and find comfort in, whether that is by fabricating favourable realities that help retain their past identity, or by dismissing their identity altogether in the hopes of acquiring a more suitable one, in order to survive hardship. When placed in a circumstance of brutal adversity, an innocent individual faces the progressive deterioration of their once-formulated identity as they struggle to balance upholding or acquiring a sense of being, with surviving severe experiences. In Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night, the way in which Elie attempts to maintain this balance, yet, facing a multitude of adversities, is forced to question his identity, illustrates the extensive role hardships play in driving individuals astray from their sense of self.

     When first presented with a difficult or unforeseen situation, humans are likely to attempt to reject it, in the innocent hope that it will, if ignored, simply go away without causing harm to their identity. This desperate hope was depicted in the beginning of the novel, as the Jews of Sighet were placed in ghettos– the initial instance of cruel segregation. Elie’s morals are introduced as the foundational, unwavering, aspects of his identity that he is unwilling to part with. Two of which, his commitment to his family and devotion to his religion, are notably emphasized through his intensive study of the Zohar, and his reluctance to be separated from his family– even if it promises a greater chance of survival. Consistently, he acknowledges his life in the ghettos with his family and friends to be “normal,” as he and the other Jews continually “voiced optimism.” Essentially acting as a defence mechanism, they found solace in undermining the reality of their situation, if it meant they could retain their sense of being and not have their identity crumble. In turn, they embraced a blind optimism through which they, averting their minds from the truth, altered their circumstance to be more favourable. This was evident even as they stood in the “hellish sun”; they sought and responded to only the warmth and light the sun is meant to provide, finding tranquility in ignoring the actual scorching heat it was thrusting upon them. They failed to see, that seeking contentment in delusions by dismissing the actuality of the situation, blinded them from acting in a way that would prove beneficial to their survival. Through the optimistic denial of the Jews, and the innocent nature of Elie, the author supports the idea that individuals initially respond to hardship by choosing to fabricate it as better than it really is, for the sake of familiarity in the hopes of upholding their embedded morals and values. However, this response may not be adequate, nor appropriate in ensuring said individual’s survival, but rather, tarnishes it.

     The nature of the circumstance that follows an individual’s initial adversity often causes them to face a struggle, as they must choose whether to reject, or embrace, their former sense of self in order to survive their present situation. In Elie’s case, there is a constant internal battle: though some situations persuade him to come to terms with the brutal reality and adversities present to ensure his survival, his mind is reluctant in dismissing all that has come to form his identity. His father’s presence also reinforces this, as he feels it is only appropriate for him to be the same Elie his father and himself have always known, for the sake of their humanity. An instance where such a struggle was apparent was as Franek, the foreman, demanded Elie give him his gold crown. When he refused, Franek proceeded to physically abuse his father during the daily march– his “weak spot.” (55) Accepting the mindset of his past identity, where family was an unquestionable priority, Elie empathetically decided to give his father marching lessons. Yet, the abuse did not end. It continued, and Elie, considering his compassion towards the sense of comfort his father’s presence provided him with, gave up not only his gold crown but also a ration of bread. Though Elie was able to preserve his father’s health and also act in accordance with his former sense of self, he later regretted this course of action. The Poles, including Franek, were transferred to another camp two weeks later, and Elie remarked, “I had lost my crown for nothing.” (56) Despite saving his father’s body from being beaten and bruised, he acknowledged that his father, and his former identity’s kindness, were weaknesses for his ability to survive. The nature of the circumstance he faced depicted to him that upholding this empathetic identity may not be advantageous to his survival, but instead detrimental. Thus, Elie commented on his desire to have instead dismissed his past morals, and perhaps attained a new, less compassionate identity.

     In spite of the contentment and ease embracing one’s former innocent, optimistic identity may bring, when faced with inhumane adversity, individuals are often forced to reject that identity and attain a more realistic one if they wish to survive. Elie experiences this transition, as he increasingly begins to prioritize his primal need for survival over his secondary “want” to be content as he once was. His faith, once serving as a vital, enlightening, and dependable element to his identity, seemed to only make him vulnerable and unrealistic as the novel progresses. The author depicts Elie’s growing loss of faith, along with his diminishing loyalty to his father due to the hardships he experiences, as the major means through which Elie’s identity is deteriorated. In contrast to faithfully praying to God in the ghettos initially, Elie later chooses to not fast, to not practice his integral religious devotion, during Passover. He must– in order to survive. Furthermore, contradictory to running to his father’s aid when Franek beat him, Elie instead lies silently, simply listening to his father’s cries from his deathbed, for the fear of receiving blows from the SS officers. In this case, the possibility of his adversity worsening causes Elie to completely and utterly reject a compassionate course of action his past identity would not have thought twice about embracing, if it means he could better cope and survive the harsh nature of his reality. Over his father’s tomb, no prayers were said, and Elie did not weep, instead feeling his consciousness insinuate “Free at last!…” (112) To have said prayer would have reinforced his religion, a trait of his former self that had only fuelled his false optimism, and arguably led him to this position in the first place. Anger at this optimism, and the lack of compassion he had embraced left him feeling as though perhaps his father, a burden, had finally been lifted from his shoulders. Consequently, as Elie looked at himself in the mirror soon after being liberated, he states, “a corpse was contemplating me.” (115) The author explicitly points to the demise of who Elie previously knew himself to be with this line. Adversity had not only completely hurt his body, but ultimately left him unrecognizable– his identity forcibly diminished in his attempts to cope and survive.

     In Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night, the idea that unforeseen adversity progressively deteriorates an individual’s identity is epitomized. For an innocent individual like Elie, it is clear to see the initial denial, the consistent struggle, and the ultimate demise that plays out as he tries to come to terms with what he must do to survive. Even if a past identity provides a sense of comfort and fulfilling nourishment, it often does not provide the needed strength a person requires to adequately deal with the adversity present. Thus, they are forced to reject who they once were in the hopes of acquiring traits that are more suitable and beneficial to their survival.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *