As I enter my last week as a twenty-year-old, I find myself nostalgically looking back on the past two decades while wondering what life has in store for me over the next two. Where will I be in twenty years? What will I have accomplished? Where will I be living? Will I be married? Have chil… wait a minute, no, that one will have to wait a few more years. These questions have all passed through my mind at one point or another over the last few weeks, but I realize that they are really quite a luxury. Paul, the narrator of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, never had the opportunity to lean back from his desk and daydream about what the next twenty years of his life had in store for him. He was busy dodging bullets and artillery shells, trying to stay alive on Germany’s Western Front during World War I.
Paul and I are united on the grounds of age and nothing more, yet somehow, while following him through his service in the War, I feel connected to him. After finishing the novel, I ruminated on this idea for some time and eventually came to the conclusion that the connection I feel with Paul is a mixture of empathy and envy. I empathize with him because he put down the pen and took up the rifle in service of his country, just as I would do if called upon. I envy him because he exudes the qualities of a brilliant soldier, meticulous narrator, and man of faith even in times of mortal danger, especially in times of mortal danger. In the midst of the worst bombardment he has yet to face, Paul shines his brightest by illuminating in vivid detail not only the hellish onslaught unfolding around him, but also the intr...
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...helling becomes a wonderfully connected verse of one soldier’s struggle to preserve himself against all odds. What more can be said about Paul? Soldier, narrator, believer, he is the embodiment of each, and would not be complete as one or two without being the third. I do not envy his situation, but rather his ability. I hope I never have to experience the modern-day equivalent of his service, but I admire the courage and strength he pours into duty. Seeing what he went through makes me wonder if my generation would be capable of standing up to fight if we were called upon as he was. Would we persevere as he did? Would I? I believe the answer is yes and that is why I empathize with him nearly a century later: as one young man to another.
Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. Trans. A.W. Wheen. New York: Ballantine, 1982.
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