My Diary: 11/2 Today he walked in with a deep blue bruise on his face. This wasn’t the first time I pretended it wasn’t there. 11/9 He started using his left hand for everything today. He is right-handed, but I didn’t mention it. 11/16 Today he walked in with a limp. The bruise from two weeks ago is gone, but a fresh one has replaced it. I was going to tell someone, but I never got around to it. 11/19 His limp had been getting better. However, today it was worse. I am going to talk to someone tomorrow… 11/20 He looked okay today…. I’ll find someone on Monday; it was a long week.
1/23 He didn’t come to school today. I talked to the someone. She needed to talk to him personally, but, as I mentioned, he wasn’t there. 11/24 He was absent again. I asked around if anyone knew anything. They didn’t. 11/26 I went to his house. His father answered the door. I asked about him. I left with no information. 12/7 Something told me that I should read the newspaper today; this is the first time in two years. He was killed on 11/20 at 8 in the evening. If only I talked to someone sooner… The diary writer kept quiet about what he saw the boy was going through.
His silence was a crime because if he spoke out sooner, the boy could still be alive. Being a bystander in situations where it is imperative to speak out happens in times of war, oppression, and everyday life. Silence is a major motif portrayed in Night, in Terrible Things, in Farewell to Manzanar, and in the world today. In Night, silence is a major thematic idea that is prominent throughout the entire memoir. Silence was the biggest motivator for the Nazis to continue with their inhumane acts.
When Moishe the Beadle exclaimed, “‘Jews, listen to me! That’s all I ask of you. No money. No pity. Just listen to me! … (Weisel 7) he was trying time after time to convince the others of the horrors he had witnessed the Nazis inflicting on some Jews. The acts were so horrific that no one believed, or wanted to believe that they were true. “Even I did not believe him” (Weisel 7). This inaction encouraged the Nazis to further the cleansing of the Jewish race through harsh methods. Reticence is also portrayed when the world maintained a complete ignorance of what was happening. “How was it possible that men, women, and children were being burned and that the world kept silent? No. This could not be real” (Weisel 32).
The Jews’ suffering was so extreme and widespread that it seemed impossible that the world could not know about this. Thus it was unfathomable, to Elie, that the world could stay neutral in a time where such injustice was being executed. The world did not see the dehumanization with their own eyes; however, Germans witnessed the suffering of the Jews from their front yards. “As we were passing through some of the villages, many Germans watched us, showing no surprise” (Weisel 46). Germans remained unfazed and taciturn, and the conviction that ‘at least it wasn’t them’ was the motive that kept their reserve.
God’s muteness, too, caused Elie to question his faith. “Why, but why would I bless Him?… Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because He kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days” (Weisel 67). “I no longer accepted God’s silence” (Weisel 69). God’s injustice and inaction caused Elie to lose faith in Him and what he stands for. Yet Elie himself was silent in a notable episode in the storyline. “The officer came closer and shouted to him to be silent. But my father did not fear. He continued to call me… I didn’t move.
I was afraid, my body was afraid of another blow, this time to my head” (Weisel 111). Elie’s neglect of his father’s wishes was a result of his fear. Like so many others, he kept quiet from fear of what might happen to him. As explained by Clint Smith in TedTalk, “Silence is the residue of fear,” and it is revealed as a major motif that is depicted throughout the narrative. The thematic idea of silence is portrayed through the inaction of the animals in Terrible Things. Every animal was happy to let the Terrible Things take the others, as long as it wasn’t them. “‘We don’t have feathers,’ the frogs said.
Nor we,’ said the squirrels. ‘Nor we,’ said the porcupines’” (Bunting 13-15). The other animals happily gave the Terribles Things what they wanted because it meant they themselves wouldn’t be taken. To justify the heartless betrayal of their fellow forest creatures, they made up excuses like “those birds were always noisy” (Bunting 26) or “those squirrels were greedy” (Bunting 48). Their willingness to give up their friends and keep quiet in order to save themselves was produced from the fear that if they were to protest, they would be the ones who would be captured.
Each time the Terrible Things came back for more, the others readily handed them over without complaint or question. “‘We mustn’t ask,’ Big Rabbit said. ‘The Terrible Things don’t need a reason. Just be glad it wasn’t us they wanted” (Bunting 31-32). Through the animals’ submission to the Terrible Things and their requests, the animals were giving up their personal rights. Little Rabbit spoke up and questioned what the Terrible Things were doing and how it was fair, but he didn’t take executive action.
Big Rabbit convinced Little Rabbit that there was nothing that they could do. This time Little Rabbit didn’t ask why. By now he knew that the Terrible Things didn’t need a reason” (Bunting 89-90). Not speaking up and remaining docile for so long made Little Rabbit acquire the quality of learned helplessness. Stopping what the Terrible Things are doing is out of his control. “When they had all gone, Little Rabbit crept into the middle of the empty clearing. ‘I should have tried to help the other rabbits,’ he thought. ‘If only we creatures had stuck together, it could have been different’” (Bunting 112-114).
When Little Rabbit is all alone, he realizes that if he and his fellow creatures defended their home together they could have stopped the Terrible Things. One person speaking out won’t make much of a difference, but if there is a collective effort, the outcome can be significantly different. Silence is illustrated in every part of Terrible Things by the nonintervention of the animals. In Farewell to Manzanar, silence is also presented as a major motif. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were looked upon as dangerous to America’s safety.
There was a lot of talk about internment, or moving inland, or something like that in store for all Japanese” (Houston 954). An Executive Order was signed by President Roosevelt that gave the military department authority to remove the Japanese Americans from the rest of America if they posed any threat to the war effort against Japan. No one spoke up against what the government was doing. The confinement of the Japanese American was executed because they were viewed as potential spies who might interfere with the war efforts despite there being no real knowledge of their affiliations or loyalties.
At first, only suspects were taken and held; however, soon after, the military moved all Japanese Americans out of their homes. “You would hear the older heads telling others very quietly, ‘Shikata ga nai’ (It cannot be helped). ‘Shikata ga nai’ (It must be done)” (Houston 954). The Japanese accepted that they were going to be taken away from their homes for a reason that was out of their control – their race. The resignation of their rights as American citizens invigorated the American government to continue robbing them of their personal freedoms.
While in the camps, the Japanese were forced to adhere to American culture at the expense of their own. For example, they were forced to eat American food. “Few of us could eat such a mixture. But at this point no one dared protest… I opened my mouth to complain. My mother jabbed me in the back to keep quiet” (Houston 958). They bit their tongues so they wouldn’t aggravate the soldiers and risk not being given any food. Thus silence is a leading topic in Farewell to Manzanar. Silence wasn’t only a problem during the war times in the 1900s, it is a major problem in the world today.