Autobiography, fiction, and faith : the literary and religious pilgrimage of Elie Wiesel / by Frederick Lee Downing.
This dissertation analyzes the autobiographical dimension in selected works of Elie Wiesel's literary project and demonstrates that Wiesel's autobiographical mode is essentially a form of testimony which has its modern roots in the ghettoes and death camps, but is indebted historically to the Jewish lamentation tradition with biblical antecedents in the prophetic heritage of Jeremiah. Thus, Wiesel's use of autobiography has a religious dimension which is tied to his conception of the writer as witness. Therefore, autobiography is, for Wiesel, a complex phenomenon which not only seeks to recreate a place of significance for its author, but also a poetics of memory and justice which attempts to change the reader and to save the world. James Olney's theory of autobiography, when applied to Wiesel's work, demonstrates that the foundation of Wiesel's literary art and his autobiographical act is the creation of a "myth of paradise"--a simplified story of the world. This fictional portrayal of life prior to the Holocaust appears in poignant detail in Wiesel's essays and fiction and establishes psychic life and moral intention for Wiesel as autobiographer. At the same time, this autobiographical mode can be understood as the survivor's attempt to mend the breach between the past and the present. By retelling his story of a pre-Holocaust past and rewriting the scriptures and traditions of Sighet, Wiesel is able to build a new symbolic universe through words which in turn creates a poetics of memory and justice. In reconstructing a symbolic universe with his stories, Wiesel takes on a survivor mission of creating a world which justifies his own survival and seeks to ensure the continuation of the unburied dead as well as generations yet unborn. In writing his story, Wiesel reworks Jewish traditions and, in so doing, demonstrates a consciousness which is essentially prophetic in nature. That is, his autobiographical construction of the world involves the creation of a public legacy--a new sense of human identity. In his work he not only refigures scripture and the zaddikim of Hasidic tradition, he projects a new sense of human identity intended for all true readers. In this way, autobiography, fiction, and faith are interwoven and are shown to be integral to his effort to refigure human identity.
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