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Essay: All Quiet on the Western Front
An anti-war novel often portrays many of the bad aspects and consequences of war. Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel set in the First World War that is against war. Remarque describes the terrible reality of the war, focusing on the horrors and involved. The novel portrays an anti-war perspective as it brings up issues about the brutality of war, the narrator’s change of attitude towards war, the futility of war and the deaths of the narrator’s friends.
In the novel, Remarque presents the brutality of war. Early on in the novel, he describes the sound of the wounded horses and how brutal the war atmosphere is. “There is a whole world of pain in that sound, creation itself under torture, a wild and horrifying agony” (p44). The brutality of war in the novel, however, is mainly shown through human suffering. Baumer talks about brutal things that soldiers are just expected to do. He says, “When you put a bayonet in, it can stick, and you have to give the other man a hefty kick to get it out…” (p74). The German soldiers attack the enemy with extreme instinctive brutality. “With the butt of his rifle, Kat smashes to pulp one of the machine-gunners…We bayonet the others before they can get their grenades out” (p84). The use of poison gas is also a very brutal practice throughout the novel. Baumer describes this while he is in a gassed area, hoping that his gas mask is working properly. He says, “I know the terrible sights from the field hospital, soldiers who have been gassed, choking for days on end as they spew up their burned-out lungs, bit by bit” (p48).
The narrator changes his attitude towards war as he becomes more aware of its undesirable effects. Even in the beginning, Baumer realises its terrible reality and the change it has made to his life. He says, “We have lost all our ability to see things in other ways, because they are artificial. For us, it is only the facts that count (p15). The physical change of the narrator and his fellow soldiers also indicate that he has gone through an attitude change towards war. “We [Paul Baumer and his fellow soldiers] became tough, suspicious, hard-hearted, vengeful and rough…” (p19). When the narrator talks about the difference between his life before the war and his life at the present time, it becomes clear that he has changed a great deal.
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All Quiet on the Western Front also portrays the complete futility of war. Kropp describes a seemingly silly way of fighting a war. He thinks that it should be done by the ministers and generals of the two countries coming together in a boxing ring and whoever is left on his feet, his country is declared the winner. Silly as it seems, however, the actual war that the soldiers are fighting in the novel is even more senseless. Baumer states that Kropp’s idea “…would be simpler and fairer than things are out here, where the wrong people are fighting each other” (p29). One of Kropp’s remarks can sum up the whole senselessness of the war: “Shit! Shit! The whole damned thing is a load of shit!” (p13). The way in which the soldiers have no real control over their destiny also shows the futility of the war. They have to rely on chance to keep themselves alive. “The front is a cage, and you have to wait nervously in it for whatever happens to you…Every soldier owes the fact that he is still alive to a thousand lucky chances and nothing else” (p72). The way that young men who become soldiers, innocently and senselessly kill one another also show war’s futile aspect in All Quiet on the Western Front. Paul reflects, “I am young, I am twenty years of age; but I know nothing of life except despair, death, fear and the combination of completely mindless superficiality with an abyss of suffering. I see people being driven against one another, and silently, uncomprehendingly, foolishly, obediently and innocently killing one another” (p186).
The deaths of the narrator’s mates are a terrible tragedy for him. The first death of one of Paul’s mates in the novel is the hardest for Paul to cope with. It is the death of Franz Kemmerich. Paul watches him dying in a hospital bed. “The tears are running down his [Franz’s] cheeks…I sit there, tense and watching his every movement, …now he is alone with his life of nineteen short years, and he is crying because it is slipping away from him” (pp22-23). The soldiers silently mourn for their lost mates: “…when we see a photograph of one of our friends who has been killed, and we stop to think about it. The features are his, the face is his, and the days we spent with him take on a deceptive life in our memories; but it isn’t really him” (p87). The deaths of mates are made even harder to cope with because the soldiers can’t burden themselves with emotions for their mates. “But our mates are dead, and we can’t help them” (p100). “When someone is dead we say he’s pushing up the daisies’, and we talk about everything the same way, to save ourselves from going mad…” (p101).
Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is essentially an anti-war novel. He portrays the reality of war by giving examples of the many horrors and tragedies involved. The anti-war novel brings up the issue of the brutality of war, the narrator’s change of attitude towards war, the futility of war, and the tragedy of the deaths of the narrator’s friends. Since Remarque describes these issues in detail throughout the story, the novel is completely against war.