Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the greatest war novels of all time. It is a story, not of Germans, but of men, who even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war. The entire purpose of this novel is to illustrate the vivid horror and raw nature of war and to change the popular belief that war has an idealistic and romantic character. The story centers on Paul Baümer, who enlists in the German army with glowing enthusiasm. In the course of war, though, he is consumed by it and in the end is "weary, broken, burnt out, rootless, and without hope" (Remarque page #).
Through Baümer, Remarque examines how war makes man inhuman. He uses excellent words and phrases to describe crucial details to this theme. "The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts," (page #). Baümer and his classmates who enlisted into the army see the true reality of the war. They enter the war fresh from school, knowing nothing except the environment of hopeful youth and they come to a premature maturity with the war, their only home. "We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. We are not youth any longer" (page #). They have lost their innocence. Everything they are taught, the world of work, duty, culture, and progress, are not the slightest use to them because the only thing they need to know is how to survive. They need to know how to escape the shells as well as the emotional and psychological torment of the war.
The war takes a heavy toll on the soldiers who fight in it. The terror of death will infest the minds of soldiers...
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...as they dread wound and death. They have nothing to look forward to but years of rage. They have experienced the horrors of war but have not experienced the enjoyments of life. They will be pushed aside and forgotten and the years will pass, and in the end they will fall into ruin.
All Quiet on the Western Front tries to explain the purpose of war and its uselessness. It is a story of an almost obliterated generation that fought for nothing but the principle of hate. Change the names, and it could have been the tale of a Frenchman, an Englishman, or an American. It is perhaps the most tragic generation our human records tell of. It bears the overwhelming accent of simple truth that makes you one wonder why war still exists.
Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. Trans. A. W. Wheen. New York: Ballantine, 1982.
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