Destruction of the Self Essay

Destruction of the Self Essay

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William James claimed that the self was divided into the “I” and the “Me,” and that the “Me” was divided into the material, social, and spiritual sub-categories. When the “Me” is attacked, and each subcategory is stripped away, a person can lose the distinguishing characteristics that makes one who one is. This type of psychological, emotional, and mental torture is shown to be used by the Nazi’s in Elie Wiesel’s heartbreaking book, Night. As the Nazi’s imprison and torture the Jewish population throughout the story, they slowly destroy the “Me” of the inmates. The concentration camps broke the spirit of the prisoners by taking everything away from them. They first took their freedom and separated them from their family, then took all of their belongings, and finally starved them and shaved them so they looked the same. In doing this, the Nazi’s made the Jews seem to all be similar and therefore the Jews lost the things that they identified themselves with. After a year in a camp, the Jews “Self” would be completely subdued.
The first category that James described was the “Material Me” (James 177). He claims that “the body is the innermost part of the material me in each of us,” and that “the clothes come next” (James 177). James believes that the way someone looks influences their “Self.” This is a valid statement due to the fact that a person’s appearance is a visual representation of individuality and it is part of what makes every person unique. Therefore, if they were forced to change their appearance, then according to James, the person’s self would be altered, if only slightly.
This idea that the appearance affects the self is supported in Night during the arrival of Elie Wiesel and his father at Birkenau, a concentrat...


... middle of paper ...


...ople then they had been before their imprisonment. By using physical, emotional, and psychological torture, they had completely destroyed everything that had made each inmate who he was. Once the “Spiritual Me,” “Social Me,” and “Material Me” had been destroyed, the people no longer had any means of differentiating themselves from one another. If they no longer had any desire to stand out, the only thing left for them to contemplate was how they would survive the next day. This method was able to reduce intelligent men and women down to a primal state where the survival instinct was the controlling factor, which made the Jews easier to control.




Works Cited

Wiesel, Elie. Night, by Elie Wiesel . New York, NY: Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Print.
James, William. The Self. New York: Harper, 1961. Google Books. Web. 6 February 2011

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