Erich Maria Remarque's classic war novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, deals with the many ways in which World War I affected people's lives, both the lives of soldiers on the front lines and the lives of people on the homefront. One of the most profound effects the war had was the way it made the soldiers see human life. Constant killing and death became a part of a soldier's daily life, and soldiers fighting on all sides of the war became accustomed to it. The atrocities and frequent deaths that the soldiers dealt with desensitized them to the reality of the vast quantities of people dying daily. The title character of the novel, Paul Bäumer, and his friends experience the devaluation of human life firsthand, and from these experiences they become stronger and learn to live as if every day were their last.
The killing and death of WW I depicted in the novel desensitizes Bäumer to the reality that death is now a regular and driving force in his life, and that each human life is no longer sacred and precious. Bäumer feels great emotion and sadness when one of his childhood friends, Kemmerich, dies early in the war. Bäumer expresses his emotional despair after Kemmerich's death, stating, "I become faint, all at once I cannot do any more. I won't revile any more, it is senseless, I could drop down and never rise up again" (Remarque 32). Because this is one of the first deaths that Bäumer witnesses personally and because Bäumer and Kemmerich were childhood friends, the emotional impact is even greater. However, not all the deaths of his comrades effect him in such a powerful manner. The fighting gets to a point at which Bäumer...
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... him. Death, which he once agonized over, is now a daily occurrence and seems commonplace to him. Life, which he once took for granted, is now cherished beyond belief, and holding on to it becomes his greatest preoccupation. These effects are not limited only to Paul Bäumer, but extend to all the millions of people that are involved, directly or indirectly, in the war. WW I has far-reaching impact. It not only touches those in combat on the front lines, but also those who support the soldiers and help to make munitions and supplies on the homefront. Bäumer, and the millions of other people involved in WW I, learn the difficult lesson that the most trying experiences in life, or in this case death, are what make us the strongest and what drive us to survive.
Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. New York: Balantine Books, 1928.
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