Elie Wiesel and Oedipus Essay

Pages: 3 (1221 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

Elie Wiesel & Oedipus

Faith in the face of evil: Elie Wiesel's Night and Sophocles' "Oedipus at Colonus"

Elie Wiesel's short, searing memoir Night and the Greek tragedian Sophocles "Oedipus at Colonus" depict the central protagonists confronting absolute, utter personal horror in a world seemingly absent of any moral center. Both Elie Wiesel and Oedipus face some of the worst circumstances any human beings can conceive of -- the death of a parent, the death of their place in society, the death of their concept of God, and the death of their concept of self. In Night, Elie Wiesel faces man's inhumanity to man in the form of the concentration camps of Auschwitz. In "Oedipus at Colonus," Oedipus confronts the end of his existence after a lifetime of misery. Wiesel must accept the death of his father and witnesses an attempt to eradicate his entire people, civilization, and culture by a supposedly civil society. Both men suffer unjustly -- Oedipus never did anything 'wrong,' at least not when he was condemned as a baby to murder his father and marry his mother. But events still conspire to bring these actions about. Similarly, Wiesel never committed any wrong actions, but merely because he was a Jew, he became the subject of murderous persecution. These individuals must ask, and try to answer the question -- what to make of a world of suffering?

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The struggles of both men against forces larger than themselves, like the force of fate and the tide of history, highlight the arbitrary nature of earthly, divine rewards. A simplistic understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition suggests that human beings who behave well and honor the gods are rewarded, and those who do not are punished. However, Wiesel's experience flies in the face of such understanding, and even Oedipus, who could be accused of hubristically assuming that he could escape his fate, suffers a punishment disproportionately harsh in comparison to his crime of arrogantly believing he can avoid his fate. Both stories, one mythological and one tragically real, illustrate how human experience flies in the face of easy cause-and-effect analysis.

TOPIC: Essay on Elie Wiesel and Oedipus Assignment

It should be noted, of course, both men worship different gods. One man is a Greek from pagan times, the other a 20th century Orthodox Jew. Wiesel's Judeo-Christian god is a creator god, so he must grapple with the question of how a God that created a theoretically good world could allow the existence of evil in such a world. Oedipus' Zeus did not create the world, but came after the world as a child of Titans, and no Olympian is all-powerful. Zeus merely reigns over his fellow Olympians, and even he is subject to the forces of the Fates. Despite these theological differences, both Wiesel and Oedipus are condemned to suffer, for reasons that are obscure to themselves, and obscure to the reader. Their theological differences motivate both men to take different interpretations of their suffering -- Wiesel must understand how the good God he worshipped allows for evil, while it is accepted in the pagan schema of thought that powerful gods can capriciously do good or evil, and truly pious men must submit to the will of the gods.

The tales show that suffering changes the character of an individual, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but that suffering always forces an individual to critically evaluate his or her relationship to God and the world. As a young man in "Oedipus Rex," Oedipus was an arrogant individual, and lashed out in a violent quarrel in the street -- this is how he killed old King Laius. Once, Oedipus had tremendous confidence in his ability to act… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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