Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator regarding the role adversity plays in shaping one’s identity.
Adversity, often surprisingly, appears in an individual’s life either due to unforeseen circumstances or because one chooses to turn a blind eye from the truth of his reality. The consequent unpreparedness may serve to negatively impact an individual’s identity due to one’s resentment towards being vulnerable, for he begins to understand that his current situation is a legacy of his own former naive nature. Due to this involuntary hardship, an individual often encounters a complete shift in his worldview, causing one’s previous emotions, sense of spirituality, mind, and ultimately body to falter. In Elie Wiesel’s novel Night, one might argue that when an individual who has blinded himself with optimistic delusion is inevitably faced with the adversity he previously denied, his non-worrisome facade shatters with the reality of his experience, thus challenging his previous worldview, causing him to struggle to maintain his identity. However, it is only when one loses their central purpose that they give in and reject their former identity completely. This idea is portrayed through the progression of Elie’s hardship during WWII, as he loses the essence of his being, and transitions from being compassionate, to struggling to maintain his values, and ultimately enters a state of idleness when he loses his purpose.
In the beginning of the novel, the Jews of Sighet, along with Elie, exemplify the tendency for individuals to deny the adversity they are faced with by embracing optimism and delusion in order to protect their innocent identities, thus blinding them from reality, and resulting in unknowing conformity. In the text during the preoccupation of the Germans in Sighet, Elie illustrates how the citizens remained optimistic by trying to convince themselves and others that the hardship that threatened their ways of life and identities was nonexistent. He states: “The Germans were already in town, the Fascists were already in power, the verdict was already out–and the Jews of Sighet were still smiling” (10). This positive mindset had stemmed from a minor act of kindness from a German officer–he had given one of the Jewish women, Mrs. Khan, a box of chocolates. This instance showcases how individuals deny the truth of their reality by exaggerating contradictory events, resulting in delusion and optimism. One chooses to be ignorant, and selectively hears and accepts actions that please them, for they do not challenge the individual’s identity. As shown by the text as the Jews pray for their well being, one begins to rely on fate when he chooses to ignore his reality, for he does not feel that it is necessary to take matters into his own hands, thus allowing adversity to progress, and his identity to deteriorate. The author further argues this concept in the text when he claims that “The Ghetto was ruled by neither German nor Jew; it was ruled by delusion” (12), after describing his experience of moving into the Ghetto, and how the Jews remained positive by claiming that this confinement would allow them to live amongst brothers rather than seeing it for what it truly was–an act of oppression. Yet again, the extent of the delusion the Jews inflicted upon themselves resulted in their conformity, and the progression of their adversity, for they embraced their innocent perceptions. Had they confronted reality, the possibility of changing the course of their lives would exist. Instead, they see adversity stripping away their freedoms and identities because they choose to conform. It is ironic that individuals attempt to preserve their identities and current lifestyles by ignoring threats to their lifestyles, but ultimately end up losing control over their own lives and their sense of self, for their lack of action allowed the adversity to intensify. However, this delirious state of mind is ultimately overcome when innocent individuals allow adversity to progress so much that it triumphs innocence–then, resentment settles in.
It becomes immensely difficult for one to honour his previous worldview once his experience with adversity contradicts and challenges his former beliefs, resulting in the deterioration and resentment of one’s identity, for he acknowledges that his innocence had blinded him from reality. When the Jews of Sighet arrive at the camp, Elie states that “the beloved objects that [they] had carried with [them] from place to place were now left behind in the wagon, and with them, finally, [their] illusions” (29). This line illustrates a shift in Elie’s character, for he his finally able to come to terms with his reality. His circumstances had escalated and no longer allowed for him to remain blindly optimistic. It is evident that inevitably, adversity will overrule delusion as it progresses. The challenge for one to maintain his identity when accepting the presence of hardship is depicted by Elie when he struggles to justify his former faith in God during his arrival at camp by saying, “Why should I sanctify His name? The Almighty, the eternal and terrible Master of the Universe, chose to be silent. What was their to thank him for?” (33). This allows readers to visualize Elie’s internal conflict, for he blames his previous blind faith for making him vulnerable. Elie was previously able to ignore the adversity that challenged his beliefs and identity, for he blinded himself with delusion. However, that is no longer possible. The resentment he shows towards his previous identity is also evident when he says that he whispered praise and prayers to God “against [his] will” (34). It is clear that Elie has an internal instinct to try to preserve his identity and continue to blind himself with hope, but struggles with it because he has now confronted the extent of his adversity. During times of hardship, an individual attempts to cling on to his former identity, but finds it difficult to do so, for his previous worldview has been called into question. Experience, essentially, triumphs innocence, and begins to deteriorate aspects of one’s identity, beginning with spirituality, as demonstrated by Elie’s faltering belief in God. However, as difficult as an individual’s circumstances may be, one’s identity will not deteriorate completely until he loses his central purpose, and thus all hope for the future.
The deterioration of one’s identity when faced with adversity is only fully completed when one loses his purpose, and forfeits the conflict to maintain his sense of self in the face of hardship. Elie encounters such a mishap in the novel after he loses his father, who acted as his motivation to live. After his death, Elie claims that he does not want to “describe [his] life during that period,” for “nothing mattered to [him] anymore” (113), signifying his complete defeat in his pursuit to maintain his identity amidst adversity. One loses all aspects of their being and what makes them human when stripped of their sense of self, as demonstrated by Elie. After his father’s death, in fact, he showcases himself completely rejecting his identity, for he was unable to “weep” (112), although it pained him not to, because he was “out of tears” (112). This heavily contrasts to his emotional state at the beginning of the novel, for he cried regularly while he prayed. This loss of tears symbolizes his complete loss of faith in God–an important part of his former identity. He is shown to lose all optimism and delusion, and thus no longer desires to live. This instance serves to prove how when one loses all optimism and reason to go on, the individual refuses to continue to struggle in order to maintain his former identity, for his traumatic experiences have invalidated his previous worldview. Adversity triumphs in its conflict with innocence–thus, deteriorating one’s identity completely.
In Night by Elie Wiesel, the author argues that one initially embraces delusion in order to attempt to deny adversity, but inevitably confronts reality, causing the individual to struggle to maintain their identity, for one’s worldview is being contradicted. Adversity is only able to win this conflict and get rid of one’s identity completely when the individual forfeits due to a complete loss of hope, or purpose, as exemplified by Elie. Hardship entails a set of experiences that usually conflict with one’s innocent worldview, for one desires to remain optimistic and reject negative change. This tendency to remain positive follows through when faced with adversity, thus blinding one from reality, and causing conformity where one sees his identity falter. The nature of such an approach can become very dangerous, and will lead to the shattering of one’s identity, for one is unable to justify and act upon the adversity he faces.