Free Essays - All Quiet on the Western Front


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Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front , is a novel set in World War I,  and centers around the changes wrought by the war on one young German soldier. During his time in the war, Remarque's protagonist, Paul Baumer, changes from a rather innocent Romantic to a hardened and somewhat broken-in veteran.  More importantly, during the course of this metamorphosis, Baumer disaffiliates himself from those societal icons—parents, elders, school, religion that had been the foundation of his pre-enlistment days. This rejection comes about as a result of Baumer's realization that the pre-enlistment society simply does not understand the reality of the Great War. His new society, then, becomes the Company, their fellow trench soldiers, because that is a group which does understand the truth as Baumer had experienced it.


      In All Quiet on the Western front the novel is told from the first person point of view, the reader can see how the words Baumer speaks are with his true feelings. In his preface to the novel, Remarque maintains that "a generation of men ... were destroyed by the war" (Remarque, All Quiet Preface).  Baumer's closest comrades fall one after the other. The conditions in the German army are to harsh, they have no food, ammunition, moral is low they could not keep fighting. An important episode in the novel is when Baumer is issued a period of leave when he visits his home town. This leave is disastrous for Baumer because he realizes that he can not communicate with the people on the home front because of his military experiences and their limited, or nonexistent, understanding of the war.

    When he first enters his house, for example, Baumer is overwhelmed at being home. His joy and relief are such that he cannot speak; he can only weep (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 140). When he and his mother greet each other, he realizes immediately that he has nothing to say to her: "We say very little and I am thankful that she asks nothing" (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 141). But finally she does speak to him and asks, "'Was it very bad out there, Paul?'" (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 143). Here, when he answers, he lies, profusely to protect her from hearing of the chaotic conditions from which he has just returned. He thinks to himself, "Mother, what should I answer to that! You would not understand, you could never realize it.

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Was it bad, you ask.—You, Mother,--I shake my head and say: "No, Mother, not so very. There are always a lot of us together so it isn't so bad."(Remarque, All Quiet VII. 143)

 Also during his leave, Baumer visits the mother of a fallen comrade,  Kemmerich. As he did with his own mother, he lies, this time in an attempt to shield her from the details of her son's lingering death. Also, in this conversation, we see Baumer rejecting yet another one of the traditional society's foundations: religion. He assures Kemmerich's mother that her son "'died immediately. He felt absolutely nothing at all. His face was quite calm'" (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 160). Frau Kemmerich doesn't believe him, or, at least, chooses not to. She asks him to swear "by everything that is sacred to" him (that is, to God, as far as she is concerned) that what he says is true (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 160). He does so easily because he realizes that nothing is sacred to him. By defying this oath, Baumer shows both his unwillingness to communicate honestly with a member of the home front and his rejection of the God of that society.

 During his leave, perhaps Baumer's most striking realization of the of his former society occurs when he is alone in his old room in his parents' house. After being unsuccessful in feeling a part of his old society by speaking with his mother and his father and his father's friends, Baumer attempts to reaffiliate with his past by once again becoming a resident of the place. Here, among his mementos, the pictures and postcards on the wall, the familiar and comfortable brown leather sofa, Baumer waits for something that will allow him to feel a part of his pre-enlistment world. It is his old schoolbooks that symbolize that older, more contemplative, less military world and which Baumer hopes will bring him back to his younger innocent ways.

 But Baumer continues to wait and the sign does not come; the connection does not occur. The room itself, and the pre-enlistment world it represents, become alien to him. "A sudden feeling of foreignness suddenly rises in me. I cannot find my way back" (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 152).

Baumer is caught in a shell hole during the bombardment. Here, he is forced to kill
a Frenchman who jumps into it while attacking the German lines. Baumer is horrified at his action. He notes, "This is the first time I have killed with my hands, whom I can see close at hand, whose death is my doing" (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 193). That is, the war, and his part in it, have become much more personalized because now he can actually see the face of his enemy. In his grief, Baumer takes the dead man's pocket-book from him so that he can find out the deceased's name and family situation. Realizing that the man he killed is no monster, that, in fact, he had a family, and is evidently very much like himself, Baumer begins to make promises to the corpse. He indicates that he will write to his family and goes so far as to promise the corpse that he, Baumer, will take his place on earth: "'I have killed the printer, Gerard Duval. I must be a printer'" (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 197). More importantly, Baumer renounces his status as soldier by apologizing to the corpse for killing him.

 In the end he has lost everyone that he ever felt for. And when he died in 1918, they say there was an expression of glad on his face.

 Ultimately, that is all that Paul Baumer is left with: war is war. It cannot be defined; it cannot even be discussed with any accuracy. It has no sense and, in fact, it has  a lack of any kind of meaning. In All Quiet on the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque shows the disorder created by the war. This disorder affects such elemental societal institutions as the family, the schools, and the church. Moreover, the war is so chaotic that it infects the basic abilities, not the least of which is verbal, of humanity itself. By showing how the First World War deleteriously affects the syntax of language, Remarque is able to demonstrate how the war irreparably alters the order of the world itself.


 


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