Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Elie Wiesel's "The Perils of Indifference" Analysis

At the end of World War II, a young boy was finally free from the cruelties of Nazi Germany after being liberated by the American resistance military. He had faced the worst of inhumanity at Auschwitz, the ghettos, and Buchenwald. There, he turned his head and became a stranger to his father in the last moments of his life--a time he would never forget. He was later liberated at Buchenwald when the American resistance military took over the camp. Later in his life, he would learn about the strangers to his own struggle--the members of society that turned their heads to the inhumanity that took place during World War II. In the spring of 1999 author of Night and Noble Peace Prize Winner, Elie Wiesel, gave his speech, The Perils of Indifference, as part of the Millennium Lecture Series hosted by white house leaders. In Wiesel’s speech, he defined the nature of indifference in regards to tragic events that happened in the past century including his struggle as a young boy caught in the middle of World War II. Wiesel presented his speech carefully by speaking with the appropriate pauses and tone so that his audience felt the message he was trying to convey.

Perils of Indiffernce Part 1 sound bite

Figure 1. Wiesel, Elie. "The Perils of Indifference." Perils of Indifference Part 1. N.d. MP3 file.

Throughout the speech, it is easy for the audience to understand Wiesel’s struggle. By speaking with a wide range of tones such as anger, hope, and apathy, the audience can understand Wiesel’s feelings towards the things lost in the twenty-first century and the future of humanity. When reflecting on his liberation, he speaks with hope and says, “he was finally free,” but he also speaks with apathy when saying that, “there was no joy in his heart.” In the one instance, when Wiesel states “the Pentagon knew, the state department knew” of his struggles, he does an excellent job of revisiting the past with anger. This makes it seem as though he was just finding out for the first time that he could have been saved earlier when he says, “now we know, we learned, we discovered.” In this instance, Wiesel allows the audience to revisit the past with him so that they too can feel the anger he has towards the indifference of the world. The audience can better understand the speaker’s attitude toward the twenty-first century through Wiesel’s repetition of contrasting tones when he concludes his speech saying with a mixture of hope, apathy, and anger that, “together we walk towards the new millennium, carried by profound fear and extraordinary hope.”

In addition to contrasting tones, Wiesel also uses a plentiful amount of pauses in order to emphasize words and phrases that he wants the audience to reflect on. When first presenting the audience with the word “indifference”, he speaks loudly and pauses after the phrase “no difference.” This can be heard in Figure 1 above. This pause allows the audience to reflect on Wiesel’s definition of indifference, which prepares them for the rest of his speech. Another word Wiesel does an excellent job at encouraging the audience to think about is the word “gratitude”. After the third time he repeats this word he pauses. This allows the audience to better understand Wiesel’s appreciation towards the gratitude others display. Another time the audience can better understand Wiesel’s feelings toward indifference is when he says, “In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman.” Two words Wiesel emphasizes in this stance through dramatic pause are “indifference” and, “inhuman.” Through these pauses, the audience can make the connection that to be indifferent is to be inhuman, which is Wiesel’s overall message.

From a young boy trapped in a concentration, to an old man witnessing consistent acts of indifference, Elie Wiesel invites his audience to feel the message he has toward the future of humanity in his speech, The Perils of Indifference. Through the use of contrasting tones and dramatic pause, Wiesel brings clarity to his overall message, which is to be indifferent is to be inhuman.

Works Cited

Wiesel, Elie, perf. "The Perils of Indifference." American Rhetoric. Michael E.
Eidenmuller, 2010. Web. 4 Oct. 2010. .

Works Consulted

Wiesel, Elie. "Preface to the New Translation." Preface. Night. By Wiesel. Trans.
Marion Wiesel. 1958. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006. vii-xv. Print.