Teaching Theme with Night

In this lesson, students will identify, discuss, and write about themes in Elie Wiesel’s Night.  Theme is sometimes a difficult concept for students to grasp, but it is essential to their development in literary analysis.  Repeatedly remind your students that the theme of a story is the central message or idea.  It says something about life, or about being human.  Theme is what makes literature compelling and significant to readers.


Topics in Night

  1. Ask students to list topics from the text.
  2. Make a master list on the board with student input.  You will end with a list that looks something like the following:
  • the Holocaust
  • faith
  • suffering
  • identity
  • survival instinct
  • human nature
  • civility vs. savagery


Theme Formula

  1. Explain that these are not themes – they are merely topics.  A theme is what the story says about a topic.
  2. Write the following formula on the board: Topic + Insight = Theme
  3. Students should copy this formula into their notes.  Stress that theme is more than just topic.
  4. Explain that theme is different from a moral.  It doesn’t state what people should or should not do.   Instead, it says something about what it means to be alive.  A moral might be as follows: look before you leap.  While the theme from the same story might be as follows: people are often impulsive and hedonistic.
  5. Ask your students what the story says about faith.  What is the authors message concerning faith?  Discuss.


Theme Statements

  1. Write the following on the board: Elie Wiesel’s Night shows that faith…
  2. Ask your students to copy it down and finish the sentence.
  3. The finished product is a theme statement.  Tell your students to use this structure when writing theme statements.
  4. Students must now select three other topics to write theme statements for.
  5. When they are finished, call on students to share their statements with the class and check for understanding.
  6. Students must now add two reasons or examples to each of their three theme statements.  This can be done in point form.


Elie Wiesel’s Night shows that people often question their faith in God when faced with inexplicably suffering.

  • When the young boy is hanged, several prisoners ask “where is God?”.
  • Elie frequently comments on his dimishing faith.  He cannot understand why a supreme and benevolent being would allow such horror to exist.

One Comment to “Teaching Theme with Night”

  1. Lisa Bernier says:

    Thanks for the great lesson. I have always had trouble getting my students to understand theme, but I think this approach might just do the trick.

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