Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front

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Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front

“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another (263).” Powerful changes result from horrifying experiences. Paul Baumer, the protagonists of Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front utters these words signifying the loss of his humanity and the reduction to a numbed creature, devoid of emotion. Paul’s character originates in the novel as a young adult, out for an adventure, and eager to serve his country. He never realizes the terrible pressures that war imposes on soldiers, and at the conclusion of the book the empty shell resembling Paul stands testament to this. Not only does Paul lose himself throughout the course of the war, but he loses each of his 20 classmates who volunteered with him, further emphasizing the terrible consequences of warfare. The heavy psychological demands of life in the trenches and the harsh reality of war strip Paul of his humanity and leave him with a body devoid of all sentiment and feeling.

Remarque introduces Paul at the beginning of the novel as a veteran. We never see his first days in combat, but we do see comparable experiences in the battles of the replacement soldiers. Paul comments in the beginning on the secrets to staying alive in the trenches by learning the skill of differentiating between the different kinds of shells by the sounds that they make. He can distinguish between gas shells, trench mortars, and long range artillery by saying, “That was a twelve-inch, you can tell by the report. Now you’ll hear the burst (52).” and imparts this key knowledge to the recruits. These actions exemplify Paul’s character at the beginning of the novel. He cares about the other soldiers and uses his veteran’s status as a source of knowledge for the volunteers. Paul has light humor in regards to a soldier’s life as well. This quote exhibits Paul’s carefree attitude toward his situation,

The soldier is on friendlier terms than other men with his stomach and intestines. Three-quarters of his vocabulary is derived from these regions, and they give an intimate flavour to expressions of his greatest joy as well as of his deepest indignati...

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...t have to infer his change, Paul states for the reader, and he is right.

Throughout All Quiet on the Western Front, Paul Baumer undergoes drastic changes as he realizes the full extent in which the war has changed his life. Paul starts out the book as a veteran, yet he is never the less changed by the war that shook the world. Paul realizes the full extent of his transformation when he is forced to kill a Frenchman just because the Frenchman tried to find shelter. Paul Baumer changed by a subject too messy to be discussed in proper decorum. T.S. Matthews says, “This is a book about something that nobody likes to talk of too much. It is about what happens to men in war. It has nothing whatever to do with the politeness, the nobilities, or any of the sometimes pretty and sometimes ridiculous notions to which the world has once again settled down (130).” Paul is changed by a war directed by people who had no idea of the horrors that would change the men of their country. Paul lived in brotherhood and died in anonymity. His life wasted by a political war, and uncaring generals. Only by accepting his transformation can Paul be at peace with his life and live in peace in death.

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