Elie Wiesel's firsthand account of life in a concentration camp engages students like few novels can.
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Winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, Elie Wiesel recounts his year in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Buna, Birkenau, and Buchenwald. Hailing from the Hungarian town of Sighet, Elie, his family, and the entire town are loaded on to cattle cars and sent to die at Auschwitz, where the only way to survive is to work.
Teachers may focus on the following literary elements:
Foreshadowing: an overwhelming foreboding envelops the entire novel.
Irony: dramatic, situational, and verbal irony offer insights to the role of fate in one's life and how one seemingly minor decision can have huge consequences.
Figurative language: Wiesel, unable to put into words suffering that most human beings never have to face, makes use of simile, metaphor, and personification extensively.
Imagery: readers will never forget the horrific images conjured by this terrible tale.
Setting: the setting is the novel.
Mood: the novel moves even the most cynical to tears.
Characterization: the reader sees Elie come of age in a concentration camp as he faces not only the horror of Nazi rule, but the horrors of his inner thoughts and desires.
In addition to literary analysis, the novel offers writing opportunities that include writing a eulogy, a thank you letter, dialogue, and journals.
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Supplying background information enhances understanding of the work. Before reading, give background on the Holocaust and World War II, so students have a frame of reference. Many outstanding study guides exist. In addition, documentaries on Auschwitz, Nazi Germany along with major motion pictures--Schindlers List, for example--impact students.
Other social issues teachers may discuss include:
Middle East Conflict
A popular resource available to teachers is an interview Wiesel did with Oprah at Auschwitz in 2005. Although Oprah's awkwardness intrudes on the power of Wiesel's reflections, the exchange contains powerful images that give a glimpse of concentration camp life.
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Student Interest and Appropriateness
Teaching novels to a disinterested class of teenagers makes going to work dreadful. Teaching novels to a class that's engaged in the learning process makes teaching a joy. Students love this novel.
Keep in mind some students are more mature than others and handle it differently. There are sections of the novel that may prove traumatic to younger students; however, it is a story that must be told and it exposes students to the dangers of discrimination and racism. Be thoughtful of student feelings and allow them to discuss mature themes the novel brings out.