The young soldiers depicted in Erich Maria Remarque's text All Quiet on the Western Front represent a generation without precedent, constancy, or forethought. The men, answering their elders' calls to become national heroes, have lost their innocence on the battlefield and remain forever altered in belief and spirit. Remarque contrasts the cold realities of war in the present to the tranquility of the past in order to illustrate the psychological transformation of the men stationed on the frontlines. The soldiers appear trapped in the present and alienated from their pasts; however, deconstruction of the text rejects the present and past as opposing states of time and identity, and reveals them as related conditions that are intimately and permanently intertwined.
Much of the critical literature regarding All Quiet on the Western Front concerns the binary relationship between the symbols of present and past. For example, critics Barker and Last assert: "This rupture with the past is one of the most dominant themes of Remarque's work, the discontinuity of life, this jolting from one place of existence to another, for which man is completely unprepared" (54). This opposition is represented in Remarque's descriptions of the contrasting environments of present and past.? The present is depicted as a state of unpredictability, uncertainty, and impermanence in which the soldiers merely exist on the edge of life. The narrator, Paul Baumer, imparts the dismal desperation of the front: "Shells, gas clouds, and flotillas of tanks--shattering, corroding, death. Dysentery, influenza, typhus‑scalding, choking, death" (Remarque 283). In contrast, the past is...
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...between the present and the past. Defining symbols, customs, and allegations of the past, both real and perceived, provoke a human battle between rival notions of an ideal present. Literary deconstruction approaches a text in much the same manner, confronting and dismantling fixed signs, traditions, and assertions. Yet like war, a deconstructive reading does not provide a final answer or the ultimate truth.
Barker, Christine, and R.W. Last. Erich Maria Remarque. London: Oswald, 1979.
Culler, Jonathan. On Deconstruction. New York: Cornell University Press, 1982.
Leitch, Vincent. Deconstructive Criticism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.
Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. New York: Ballantine, (1928)1958.
Wagener, Hans. Understanding Erich Maria Remarque. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991.
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