The force of memory in Elie Wiesel's novels : a survivor's tale / by Judith Clark Schaneman
Includes bibliographical references (p. -425)
Eliezer's vow "never to forget", made during his first night at Auschwitz becomes the unifying focus for the protagonists of Elie Wiesel's novels. The necessity of remaining faithful to this vow produces an underlying tension in Wiesel's work and in the lives of his characters who may be viewed collectively as one survivor. Whether or not he himself experienced the camps, each protagonist's struggle to respect Eliezer's vow while at the same time remaining faithful to the Jewish command to "choose life" parallels the survivor's struggle to redirect his life after the devastation of "l'univers concentrationnaire". Together, these individual responses provide a convincing portrait of the quest to reestablish life after an intense and prolonged encounter with death and loss which may be corroborated in psychological studies of survivors' reaction and response to death, loss and separation. In Wiesel's novels, the protagonists rebuild their lives through the creative use of memory. In the early works, memory proves a destructive force which entraps the protagonist in his past, thwarting his attempts to choose life. For Wiesel's characters, the creative force of memory resides primarily in childhood remembrances, its destructive side in persecutions of the Jews, usually during the Holocaust. This latter experience initially overpowers all that preceded it. Only as the characters distance themselves from it are they able to create a balance between these two levels of memory by enlisting recent experiences of human solidarity as allies of the earlier childhood memories. As Wiesel's characters respond to these three levels of memory, they redefine Eliezer's vow "never to forget" in ways which allow them to remain faithful both to it and to the Jewish command to choose life. To the extent that they successfully maintain the tension between these two elements, Wiesel's protagonists develop a fictional, but psychologically accurate model for confronting change and loss, suggesting them as modern replacements for the classical literary hero.
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