Page 71 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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FINE / WIESEL’S LITERARY LEGACY
65
with hostility and contempt. Both survivor-protagonists in
Dawn
and
The Accident
have not distanced themselves sufficiently from
the past to be able to bear witness, nor have they yet found ju s tifi­
cation for the ir survival.
NO RETURN
I f Wiesel’s first th ree books plunge the reade r into severe
darkness,
The Town Beyond the Wall
(1962) marks ano ther stage in
the itinerary o f the witness. Michael, the main character, sets
fo rth on a pilgrimage to his birthplace in search o f his pre-
Holocaust past. After many years o f wandering, the survivor
re tu rns to his native town only to find tha t he is a stranger.
Igno red by the townspeople, he has been erased from the ir mem­
ory along with the o the r deported Jews. His homecoming con­
firms his homelessness, and he runs away from his fa ther’s house,
re trea ting once again into a second exile. Ironically, his jou rney
ends up in jail. He confronts the impassive bystander who
watched the deporta tion o f the Jews from his window above the
public square, and this average man, “symbol o f anonymity,”
inform s the police.
In prison Michael discovers the existence o f an inne r voice
endowing him with the ability to recreate visions o f his
shtetl.
He
becomes the meeting g round o f his dead family, friends, and
teachers who come to life as he perceives and remembers them.
Michael understands tha t the town no longer exists excepts as he
mythicizes, fantasizes and enshrines it in his memory.
The Town
Beyond the Wall
is pivotal in the thematic development o f the
witness because, for the first time, the protagonist discovers his
creative powers, that is to say, he discovers the town
within.
It is
also the first time that he reaches ou t to save ano ther human
being — the young mad boy sharing his cell. Saving the life o f
ano ther becomes an impo rtan t theme in Wiesel’s works tied to the
motif o f the witness, for one needs the o the r in o rder to bear
witness and by speaking out, one keeps the o the r alive.
T he following two novels,
The Gates of the Forest
(1966) and
A
eggar inJerusalem,
(1968) stress the responsibility for helping the
o ther, depicted by the presence o f the double. In both works, the
main characters have a significant relationship with a double, a
second self simultaneously unknown and familiar, inaccessible
nd intimate, a harb inger o f death and p ro tec tor o f life. T he dou ­