Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the role adversity plays in shaping an individual’s identity.
Using the text Night by Elie Wiesel
The Destruction of Identity through Unbearable Adversity
As members of a pluralistic society we all experience varying levels of hardship, through different forms of adversity, that test the validity of our values and beliefs. It is the extent of this hardship that determines the identity of the individual once they emerge from their pain and suffering. If the person is able to rely on their previous values and beliefs to get through the time of duress, then the individual will see their original identity solidified. But, as the seen through the actions of Elizer Wiesel in his memoir “Night”, the original values of an individual are sometimes unable to withstand the stress applied by a hardship. In this case the individual will see their identity start to deteriorate, eventually reducing the person to just their primal instincts, making survival their only priority. Through the recollection of his experiences, Elie illustrates the slow deterioration of an individual’s identity when they are faced with overwhelming adversity and are unable to support their initial values. This is exemplified through his relationship with his father; where readers witness his transition from an innocent, caring, loyal son who is willing to risk death in order to stay with his father to a detached, insensitive uncompassionate stranger that lay still, ignoring his father’s final pleas for help. Through the retelling of his tragic story Elie Wiesel reinforces the idea that even a morally sound individual will see their humanistic identity devolve to primal instinct when confronted with incomprehensible adversity and survival is made their only priority.
Elie Wiesel uses his relationship with his father to exemplify that even the strongest piece of one’s identity, their ties to family, can be overwhelmed by significant adversity. Initially, we see that Elie cares for nothing more than his own kin, exemplified specifically in the first chapter when he is given the opportunity to flee the ghetto and seek refuge with the family maid in a nearby village. “Naturally, we refused to be separated.” (pg20) was his response when given the opportunity to leave by his father. This illustrates how close Elie was with his family, refusing the thought of individual safety; rather choosing to suffer unimaginable horrors, so long as he could stay with his loved ones. The author included this line to illustrate that family had always been the foundation for this identity and that initially nothing could tear them apart. His chosen diction also indicates that there wasn’t even a moment of hesitation before his response, as if that idea of leaving his father wasn’t even a possibility- as if he was instinctually driven to stay close to his family. This is further exemplified when Elie was willing to run across the line of armed men had his father been dictated to go right by Dr. Mengele at the very first selection after arriving at Auschwitz. This event occurs after Elie has seen some of the horrors at the concentration camp; which is significant at it illustrates that his original compassionate and loving identity had been able to withstand a certain degree of pressure, but compared to what lay ahead, a very low level of adversity. But as life continues at the camp, Elie soon learns that his values and beliefs were not constructed to bare the level of pain he would be experiencing as he sees himself change, his identity slowly crumbling around him.
When individuals are faced with growing hardship they being to resent their weakness, which in Elie’s case was his compassionate identity, as they blame these factors for the emotional, mental and physical pain they are currently experiencing. Elie begins to see his morally sound identity crumble after just hours of hardship at the camp. “My father had been struck, in front of me, and I had not blinked. I had watched and kept silent. Only yesterday I would have dug my nails into the criminal’s flesh. Had I changed so much? (pg39) His action, or lack thereof, signifies that Elie is already abandoning his previous identity, a fact that he himself acknowledges by questioning if he had “changed so much? So fast?” He is disgusted by the fact that he did nothing to stand up for his father, vowing revenge, claiming that he would never forget this. But as time passed in the camp, Elie’s identity continued to dissolve at an accelerating rate, just days after his father being slapped, Elie sees his father getting beaten again but, this time rather than hating the German attacker, Elie is enraged that his father was unable to avoid it. This rapid shift illustrates Elie’s growing hatred towards his previous identity, one with compassion and love that leads him to feel pain whenever his loved ones are harmed. He begins to reject his previous values and beliefs, the ones that failed him in his time of duress, as a coping mechanism, a way to lessen the pain he feels. But as the adversity grows Elie finds that he must completely reject his original humanistic identity, and must rely solely on his survivalist instincts if he hopes of overcome this hardship.
When the hardship faced by an individual becomes unbearable, they will reject all parts of their former self, their former identity, and must resort to following their primal, animalistic instincts if they hope to survive. Elie Wiesel exemplifies this as he recalls his final days with his father. He retells his feelings of anger when choosing to share his food, an action that he would have completed without a second thought, just months ago. He also began imagining not finding his father the morning after a night, imaging the freedom he would have felt. Most importantly he said, “I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not… I might have found something like: Free and last!” (pg 112) This quote shows Elie’s final step in completely rejecting his original identity, choosing to give into the adversity and to rely on his survivalist instincts in order to ignore his dying father’s last wishes, his last words. He goes on to describe how the rest of his time at the camp was not worth mentioning, that once his father had died nothing seemed of significance. Finally at the end of the novel he claims that while staring at a mirror, a corpse was staring back. This shows how Elie understands that he had lost himself to the hardship, how the adversity that he had attempted to bravely face had decimated his identity, turning his original values and beliefs to ashes. And those ashes remained in the crematorium where is his father had been taken due to his decision to no longer care. His identity had been destroyed by the adversity he had undergone and its ashes lay along with those of the man that had personified them.
Through his memoir “Night”, Elizer Wiesel brings forth the idea that no matter how strong an individual’s identity is, they will be able to witness it crumble if faced with an event greater adversity. That no matter how strong a person attempts to be, there can always be an adversity that overpowers their values and beliefs, an adversity that can reduce the individual to his/her primal instincts of the need to survive. By bringing forth his own experiences in the concentration camp; the place that transformed him from being a boy that was willing to risk death to be with his father to one that abandoned his compassionate identity to finally making the decision to not respond when his father needed him most. Elie shows how even the most solidified identities can eventually be deteriorated into nothingness. How millions of years of human evolution that taught us how to care and love can be decimated by a single, unforgettable tragedy.