An individual’s capacity for self-sacrifice in the face of compelling circumstances.
As an individual is forced to undergo various adversities in his life, his ability to sacrifice themselves for others begins to diminish. The idea of self-sacrifice within compelling circumstances begins to seem impossible as humans revert to their natural instinct to keep themselves alive as opposed to those around them. Their once solid beliefs and values become an increasing burden rather than an advantage as their ability to concern themselves with everyone else’s needs distracts them from their own survival. Elie Wiesel illustrates this concept through the recollection of his memories as a young boy and the way in which he reacted to circumstances testing his faith and devotion. These particular obstacles lead to the prioritization of self-survival over the safety of others as the capacity for self-sacrifice in compelling circumstances diminishes and his animalistic instincts are sparked, resulting in the destruction of previous morals. Wiesel illustrates the capacity for self-sacrifice through his journey from selflessness to selfishness.
An individual’s willingness to sacrifice their safety and comfort is drastically higher when they hold a more optimistic and hopeful view of the future. At this point in time, their empathy rules over their self-interest as helping others stay comfortable and survive becomes a priority. Initially, Eliezer values the comfort of others over himself and is willing to provide support to those who need it while putting himself in unsettling conditions. As the Nazis begin to remove the Jews of Sighet from their homes and transport them into the ghettos, Wiesel and his sisters run around giving water to the families being moved on that day. “Since my sisters and I were destined for the last convoy and we were still allowed to move about, we helped them as well as we could.” (Pg. 14). As the Jews being transported are waiting to leave, they are left under the harsh sun without water and quickly become parched. This passage presents a strong moral in Wiesel’s life as he is willing to sacrifice his last day of comfort in order to ensure that all other Jews are taken care of. Assisting others is seen to be a natural instinct for Ellie; one that does not take much effort to pursue. This passage is a clear indication of his humanity at the beginning of the novel. However, this passage also allows for the interpretation that the smaller the task, the easier it is to sacrifice time and effort. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Wiesel struggles to continue to sacrifice his own comfort for others and his sacrifices become less natural and more forced. He is also at risk of losing more in the future.
When the dignity and safety of everyone around a particular individual is brought into question, the sacrifice of valuable possessions in order to win back protection becomes increasingly difficult as resentment begins to build up for those he risked his comfort for. As time passes by in the camps, Elie finds it more difficult to remain by his father’s side. One particular incident in the novel was when Franek, the foreman, demanded to have Elie’s golden tooth however, when he refused, Franek tormented Elie’s father. “But alas, Franek knew where to touch me; he knew my weak point….. A fortnight later, all the Poles were transferred to another camp. I had lost my crown for nothing.” (pg. 54). This passage emphasizes the futility of one of Elie’s sacrifices as he is only given temporary relief for sacrificing his crown. From this point forward, Elie’s ability to sacrifice himself begins to diminish as he no longer understands the purpose of self-sacrifice. This essential moment is a turning point in his basic morals as he loses a vital connection between him and his father resulting in both resentment as well as the inability to sacrifice himself. When forced into harsh circumstances, individuals begin to resent the burden placed upon them to save others and develop a desire to save themselves as opposed to others. They then lose the motivation to save others as they now have too much to lose. With this newfound doubt, Elie’s capacity for self-sacrifice begins to lower as a realizations of the futility of assisting others in difficult circumstances envelops him.
True to human nature, self-interest eventually wins over during times of adversity as an individual’s optimistic hope for the future completely diminishes and the futility of saving others overcomes them. Ellie can’t save his father anymore- finally, after undergoing inhumane treatment from his oppressors, Elie Wiesel’s remaining strength for self-sacrifice is destroyed and he fights only to save his own life. Wiesel’s father is deathly ill and begins to burden Elie with his constant need to be taken care of. After fighting for his father’s life, Wiesel becomes too tired to look after anyone but himself. He struggles to respond to his father’s becoming: “His last word was my name. A summons to which I did not respond.” (pg. 106). As Wiesel’s father was dying, he continuously called his son’s name in hope that he would save him. Fed up with his father’s needs, Elie decides to sleep instead of attending to his sickly father. The next day, his father is dead. An illustration of Wiesel’s loss of humanity is greatly revealed within this quote as everything he had previously sacrificed for his father no longer had any meaning. Surrounded by prisoners who cannot comprehend the relation Wiesel has with his father, doubt invades his mind as he no longer understands why self-sacrifice is necessary. An internal conflict between self-sacrifice and self-preservation is finally resolved as self-preservation comes out victorious. This final destruction of humanity allows readers to comprehend Wiesel’s ultimate capacity for self-sacrifice during compelling circumstances. When the realization that sacrificing one’s own safety for the comfort of others creates more adversity than it fixes, individuals neglect to fulfill the desires of others in order to protect themselves.
By their very nature, humans desire to protect themselves over others when they have more to lose and self-sacrifice is never fully possible. True to human nature, through a journey from self-sacrifice to self-preservation, Elie Wiesel’s novel “Night” demonstrates an individual’s inability to remain selfless when faced with overwhelming adversities. The idea of self-sacrifice leads to a disturbed perspective of the world as a lack of self-interest becomes a burden rather than a skill as Ellie struggles to remain in touch with the benefits associated with saving his father. The author’s recollection of his past demonstrates the capacity individual’s possess when dealing with themselves and others.