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Born Erich Paul Remark (later changed to Remarque) on June 22, 1898, he grew up in a Roman Catholic family in Osnabruck in the province of Westphalia, Germany--a city in the northwest part of what is now West Germany. He adored his mother, Anna Maria, but was never close to his father, Peter. The First World War effectively shut him off from his sisters, Elfriede and Erna. Peter Remark, descended from a family that fled to Germany after the French Revolution, earned so little as a bookbinder that the family had to move 11 times between 1898 and 1912. The family's poverty drove Remarque as a teenager to earn his own clothes money (giving piano lessons). In November 1916, when Remarque was eighteen and a third-year student at Osnabruck's Lehrerseminar (teachers college), he was drafted for World War I. After basic training at the Westerberg in Osnabruck (the Klosterberg of the book), he was assigned to a reserve battalion, but often given leave to visit his seriously ill mother. In June 1917, he was assigned to a trench unit near the Western Front. He was a calm, self-possessed soldier, and after carrying fellow comrades to safety during battle, he himself was severely injured and was sent to the hospital in Duisburg for much of 1917-1918. He was there when his mother died in September 1917.
The war ended before Remarque could return to active service, but even though he had not experienced front-line fighting at its worst, the war had changed his attitudes forever. He had learned to realize the value of each individual life, and had become disillusioned with a patriotism that ignored the individual. To him and many of his companions, civilian careers no longer held any meaning. In 1929, he published All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel about the experiences of common German soldiers during World War I. Remarque stripped the typical romanticism from the war experience in his shocking anti-war novel. The novel instantly became an international success, and also was turned into an Academy Award winning movie. After reading the book, I can’t even fathom what a different lifestyle Remarque led, fighting for survival every day while I find myself watching hours of TV searching for entertainment day after day. One can imagine the intense emotions that Remarque included in his story, seeing as how his first hand experiences have affected him so greatly.
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Through the observations of Paul Baumer, a 19-year-old volunteer to the German army during World War I, readers see war and all its horror. Baumer and his classmates go right from high school to military service, egged on by parents, teachers, and other stubborn adults who fail to realize the severity of enlisting. But war soon transforms Paul and his comrades into "old folk" and "wild beasts.” As a result of the tragedies and deaths that they see all around them, Baumer and his friends are completely disillusioned by the war, even though they had all eagerly enlisted. Now they believe that war is a big waste and question whether there is a just cause for the fighting. One night during basic training, they took out their frustrations by beating up Corporal Himmelstoss, their drillmaster and a true bully. Eventually Baumer is given permission to visit home, and when he does, he realizes he is a changed man. He feels totally lost when he puts on civilian clothes; he finds he has no interest in the things that previously entertained him. He cannot even relate to his family and resents that everybody in his small hometown acts as if the war were a game or a wonderful thing. He wishes that they understood the true horrors of fighting. During battle one day when he is alone in a shell hole trying to protect himself, an enemy soldier, Gerald Duval joins him. Paul panics however and stabs the man. Paul realizes that Gerald Duval wasn’t much different from himself and when Duval dies, he is greatly saddened. By the end of the book all of Baumer's soldier friends have died one after the other. Kat is the last one to be lost. When he is hit and killed by a sniper, it comes as a big blow to Baumer. Then one day in the fall of 1918, near the end of the war, Baumer himself dies on the Western Front. As you can see, the novel includes an intense plot that draws the reader in, wanting to hear Remarque express his experiences through Paul’s story.
Remarque's novel is an intense statement against war. Throughout Paul’s narrative there are continuing attacks on the romantic ideals of warfare. The entire novel is a portrayal of the split between those ideals and the actual horror of trench warfare. Remarque continually stresses that the soldiers were not fighting with the traditional patriotic spirit in mind. They were fighting for their survival. The matters of getting food, shelter, clothing in addition to avoiding gunfire and bombs were their biggest concerns. There is nothing in his novel that makes the actual experience of war look attractive. Even the close friendships between Paul and his fellow soldiers come at the high price of brutal suffering and pain. Remarque portrays the war as a profound betrayal from the older generations and their values to the lifestyles of the younger generations. Men of Paul's age entered the war under the heavy pressure of people they regarded as trusted authority figures. The people who were supposed to guide them to their adulthood sent them to their deaths with false slogans of patriotism.
This book is great and can serve as a piece of literature that educates and enlightens people on an overlooked tragedy. Because of Remarque’s experiences in WWI, there is no doubt that he is completely qualified to write such an intense and historically based novel. Surprisingly, I didn’t find the story to be too bias towards Germans or Germany. Except for occasional, references to French, British and American troops, I hardly noticed that the story is told from the German side of the trenches. Remarque is very clear as to why he wrote the novel and he was able to send a message to the reader very well. Remarque writes a clear tale in which the reader finds himself questioning his assumptions of war and in particular the First World War. As only a novel could do, the reader is brought into the world of battle and through the mind of one who is killed by war. All Quiet On the Western Front might serve as a good summer reading assignment for history students because it enlightens the reader on certain aspects of WWI the text book surely overlooks. In any event, I recommend this book to those who question their text books, for this novel really dives into the complexity and tragedies of World War I.