Memoir and Elie Wiesel's Night
Arrival of a Transport, Theresienstadt Ghetto
Felix Bloch (1942-1944)
Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”
He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
-- Genesis 4:8-9 (KJV)
View of My Birthplace, William Pachner (1958)
In his Poetics (4th cent. BCE), Aristotle defines myth (mythos) as “a unified shape,” a plot; a story that can be seen as belonging to a certain culture, shaped by that culture’s other stories. This is to say that a myth only finds its unique form and significance through its relation to other myths, the whole of which, taken together, we would call a mythology. Applying this definition to the literary genre of memoir (Fr. "memory"), we might then say that if the task of the memoir is to tell a myth of the self, then there is a greater mythology that comprises the entire autobiographical experience of the memoir’s author that gives form and meaning to the myth (plot) of the memoir. The memoir, then, presents a version of the self--a self—not the self; a version of the self (a myth) that can only be understood when taking into consideration how it fits into the entire autobiographical experience of the self (the mythology). In this unit, students recognize and appreciate the effective use of literary devices in nonfiction self-writing (although we'll complicate things by questioning whether such a thing as "nonfiction" self-writing can even exist). Students will read Elie Wiesel's Holocaust memoir Night and look for common narrative techniques of the memoir as a literary genre, such as the emphasis on a particularly significant, transformative event or time period in the author's life. Works of art that address similar goals, such as self-portraits, are also examined to compare presentation. Students will apply their learning of this literary genre by composing their own memoir in a short narrative essay.
- RL.9-10.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
- RI.9-10.4. Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.
- W.9-10.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
- SL.9-10.3. Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.
- Identify and explain the characteristics of a memoir
- Distinguish between autobiography and memoir
- Identify and explain the effect of stylistic devices used in memoirs
- Identify and explain the effect of rhetorical strategies in speeches and visual media
- Night by Elie Wiesel (please use the 2006 Marion Wiesel translation published by Hill and Wang)
- Confessions, Book XI (Saint Augustine)
- Who is St. Augustine? -- An Introduction
- Fredriksen, Paula. "The Confessions as Autobiography." A Companion to Augustine. Ed. Mark Vessey. Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2012. 87-98.
- Rothfield, Lawrence. "Autobiography and Perspective in the Confessions of St. Augustine." Comparative Literature 33.3 (1981): 209-223.
- Elie Wiesel's Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech (an excerpt)
- Downing, Christine. "Imagination and Memory: Holocaust Reverberations." The Luxury of Afterwards. New York: iUniverse, 2004, Chapter 1.
- Schwarz, Daniel. Imagining the Holocaust, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.
- Wiesel, Elie. Memoirs: All Rivers Run to the Sea. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
- Young, James E. Writing and rewriting the Holocaust: Narrative and the Consequence of Interpretation. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana UP, 1990.
The Path to Nazi Genocide. A concise overview of the Holocaust and what made it possible. Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Mr. Wheeler's Introduction to Unit 6: Myth of the Self: Night and Memoir
Auschwitz: Death Camp with Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel
The Oprah Whinfrey Show