God places numerous paths in front of us throughout our lives. The paths we take
are a result of the choices we make. Elie Wiesel's protagonist, Elisha, in his book
Dawn, tries desperately to ?nd an acceptable reason for taking the path laid out in front
of him after the holocaust. This historical novel written in 1961, brings out reservations
we have all encountered at one time or another. Will Elisha continue down the path of
revenge? Or will the memories contributing to his reservations lead him elsewhere?
Elisha is certain of the path he wants to take. Elisha is in need of answers, answers
from God on why Elisha, his family, and his Jewish race, have been tortured without
reason or cause.
Where is God to be found? In suffering or in rebellion? When is a man
most truly a man? When he submits or when he refuses? Where does
suffering lead him? To puri?cation or to bestiality (Wiesel, E. (1961). Dawn.
(p.12). Hill and Wang)
Elisha does not choose the path of knowledge to answer these questions. Instead
Elisha follows Gad, who leads the resistance movement through anger and revenge.
Elisha in such a vulnerable state follows willingly and yet questions every move he
makes for its merit. Elisha craves for someone to tell him his actions of revenge are not
only understandable but acceptable. "If today I am only a question mark, he ( Gad) is responsible." (13)
And yet should Elisha blame another for selecting the wrong path? Elisha has the
choice to become more than "a question mark", but chooses revenge. Following Gad
and the resistance is a reason for walking down the path of revenge, but not an excuse.
Elisha blindly follows, trying to ?nd the answers to his questions, killing supposed
enemies along the way. Elisha is then given the ultimate test of murdering in cold blood
an innocent man at dawn. Why? Because "this is war" (5). And so the long tortuous
night before the dawn brings agonizing moments of past souls hovering with longing
eyes. Elisha feels trapped and claustrophobic when these past beings enter his
thoughts. Why are they here? Why do their eyes scorn me or question me? Why do
We are here to be present at the execution. We want to see you
carry it out. We want to see you turn into a murderer. That's natural
enough, isn't it? (57)
Elisha's past has made Elisha who he is at that time. The people who have cared for
him, taught him, and loved him are a part of who Elisha is at this moment of uncertainty.
The decision to kill or not to kill directly affects everyone in his past. The very fact they
enter Elisha's thoughts is proof of his reservation toward committing this horrible deed of
execution. Elisha's prior "selves" are trying to guide him down the right path, The path
of purity and goodness.
To follow this path of purity, Elisha must be brave, strong, and courageous; it is true.
However, ?rst Elisha must ?nd forgiveness within his battered heart. Elisha needs to
remember the events that brought Elisha to this point in his life, but then be brave enough to forgive those who destroyed everything in Elisha's life which was normal.
Can Elisha be brave and courageous enough to forgive? Again the right path is ahead
of him, but revenge is a powerful drug leading him into the night of unforgiving eyes.
What is the meaning of the eyes that torture his thoughts?
"Death," Kalman, the grizzled master, told me, "is being without
arms or legs or mouth or head; it is all eyes. If you ever meet a
creature with eyes everywhere, you can be sure it is death."(22)
Elisha is not strong enough to ?ght death himself, so in desperation seeks out a reason
to kill. Elisha must ?nd a reason so the eyes will stop penetrating through his soul.
The obvious reason to take someone's life is hatred. Elisha aches for this emotion to
enter his heart, but God does not make it easy for Elisha. Elisha searches the
prisoner's face for any reason to warrant the meaningless murder.
"I didn't, hate him at all, but I wanted to hate him. That would
have made it all very easy. Hate-like faith or love or war-justi?es
When the hate does not come, Elisha worries about his decision to confront his victim.
Now Elisha's victim is a person with a family and a life beyond these walls. Elisha does
not hate him at all. In fact, Elisha is enamored of the victim's smile, wit, calmness and
bravery. What is happening in this bizarre situation? Elisha and the victim, John, are
both here because of their belief in a cause. However, now that so-called cause has led
them to this barren room with uncomfortable silence lingering along with admiration.
We were the ?rst - or the last- men of creation; certainly we
were alone. And God? He was present, somewhere. Perhaps He was incarnate in the liking with which John Dawson inspired me.
The lack of hate between executioner and victim, perhaps this is God.
God is there; however, Elisha is unable to let him in. The decision to walk away is easy
and yet maybe the hardest decision Elisha will ever have to make. Both paths are
visible to the eye, and yet Elisha still is uncertain. Dawn is here.
With the dawn, Elisha's past walks calmly in the room. The room, swarming with the
walking dead from his past, is unbearably cramped and suffocating. Elisha notices the
anxiety in their eyes and cannot take the pressure.
In desperation, John wants to tell a funny story, and Elisha's former self says:
"Too bad," said the little boy. "I'd like to have heard his story."
"Elisha---" said the hostage.
I ?red" (101)
With the ?ring of Elisha's gun the dead walks quietly and solemnly out taking John with
them. The paths disappear, and God is not present. Elisha cannot forgive and
therefore loses his way. All that is left for him are the eyes of death staring back at him
through the re?ection in the window, and the haunting words of his mother, "Poor boy!
Poor boy!". (102)
Does Elisha receive the answers to his questions? Yes, but he is too scared to hear
them. Elisha has always known the answers. Elisha knows them as little boy in the
home of his nurturing parents. Elisha knows the answers suffering in the concentration
camps. But, now he has lost his way, unfortunately, Elisha is sidetrack by Gad's anger
and quest for revenge. And yet, Elisha knows the answer is always forgiveness. A brave and courageous man is a man who has suffered but chooses the path of
forgiveness, and therefore reaches purity at the end. God will not only be with him but
will guide him, help him, and love him along this path. Instead.... "Poor boy!Poor
boy!" (102) echoes in Elisha's ears forever.