All Quiet On The Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front The remains of Paul Baumer’s company had moved behind the German front lines for a short rest at the beginning of the novel. After Behm became Paul’s first dead schoolmate, Paul viewed the older generation bitterly, particularly Kantorek, the teacher who convinced Paul and his classmates to join the military, feeling alone and betrayed in the world that they had left for him. Paul’s generation felt empty and isolated from the rest of the world due to the fact that they had never truly established any part of themselves in civilian life. At boot camp, Himmelstoss abused Paul and his friends, yet the harassment only brought them closer together and developed a strong spirit amongst them. Katczinsky, or Kat, was soon shown to be a master scavenger, being able to provide the group with food or virtually anything else; on this basis Paul and him grew quite close. Paul’s unit was assigned to lay barbed wire on the front line, and a sudden shelling resulted in the severe wounding of a recruit that Paul had comforted earlier.

Paul and Kat again strongly questioned the War. After Paul’s company were returned to the huts behind the lines, Himmelstoss appeared and was insulted by some of the members of Paul’s unit, who were then only mildly punished. During a bloody battle, 120 of the men in Paul’s unit were killed. Paul was given leave and returned home only to find himself very distant from his family as a result of the war. He left in agony knowing that his youth was lost forever.

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Before returning to his unit, Paul spent a little while at a military camp where he viewed a Russian prisoner of war camp with severe starvation problems and again questioned the values that he had grown up with contrasted to the values while fighting the war. After Paul returned to his unit, they were sent to the front. During an attack, Paul killed a French soldier. After discovering that this soldier had a family, Paul was deeply shattered and vowed to prevent other such wars. Paul’s unit was assigned to guard a supply depot of an abandoned village, but he and Kropp were soon wounded when trying to escape from the village. Paul headed back to the front, only to engage in final battles where all of his friends were killed.

The death of Kat was particularly hard for Paul because they were very close. One month before the Armistice, Paul was killed. Ramarque’s purpose in writing this book was to display the hidden costs of war. The physical aspects of death and wounds did not begin to portray the mental anguish that the soldiers experienced during and after the war. He hoped to show the results of war on an entire generation; a loss of innocence in life which those who were once soldiers could never replace.

Remarque’s message came across very clearly. There were constant tragedies which forced Paul or the other soldiers to question war and become detached from civilian life. After viewing the death of a close friend and a recruit whom he had comforted earlier, Paul went home finding that war had isolated him from his family and his childhood. With the return to his unit he again felt the presence of belonging. Soldiers had become his family. The mental anguish was again vividly displayed after Paul killed a French soldier; discovering that the soldier had a family, Paul slipped into a deep agony vowing to prevent such wars from again occurring.

The depth of the emotions that soldiers experienced created a very believable example of the psychological impacts of war. A strong bias against war in general was shown in this novel. The experience of “lostness” from society as a result of war seemed to be a point presented often and possibly an experience of Remarque. Numerous times Paul found his unit to be separated from the rest of the world. He found no belonging to civilization but instead a brotherhood amongst his comrades in the military. The constant questioning of war and its values was presented very frequently and in fact may have included a few of Remarque’s own questions of society and biases against the immorality and murder committed during war.

I have gained a great deal of insight into World War I from this novel. Previously, I understood the diplomacy and the military strategies involved with this war, but I have now also been exposed to the physical and foremost mental anguish that the soldiers on the front experienced. I had never thought about a soldier’s loss of identity when leaving behind all of the values, schooling, and family that once revolved around them. A new perspective of the battlefield was presented in which soldiers of opposite forces are in much of the same state: frightened human beings with family and loved ones at home, attempting to avoid death each day by whatever means possible; many very likely questioning the purpose of war as Paul constantly did. Many conflicts of values were presented constantly throughout the course of World War I. One of the strongest which I had not previously considered was the fact that as children homicide is certainly presented as a terrible act, yet on the front an unseen document legalizes mass murder. As a result of this novel, I can now clearly see how the mental anguish of soldiers on the front developed.

This novel was written very well. The plot was fast paced and the incredibly realistic war depiction’s kept my attention alone. Yet merged with the physical activity in this book was an extraordinary depth of the emotional impacts of the war upon the soldiers. I did not find the characters to be superficial in any way. Their physical actions and mental ideals coincided very closely. The emotional state of characters developed very genuinely throughout their endeavors; this realism forced me to look at the purpose of war more closely and examine its results on the militia. Foremost, I have gained a multitude of new perceptions, some of which make a great deal of sense, from the vividly portrayed physical results of war and the depth in which the dynamic emotions of the soldiers, particularly Paul, were presented.

This book has simply given me new views of war. It was an incredible work to read.

All Quiet On The Western Front

“All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel written by Erich Maria
Remarque. It is a war novel that tells the story of a young man and his
experiences in combat during World War I. The title of the novel roots from a
phrase used to describe the silence between shellings and infantry attacks
during the battles fought on the western front ( Text, 895 ). Although World War
I was a very real event, the testaments of the main character in All Quiet on
the Western Front is purely fictional, but they are based on the accounts of
veterans of the war. In order to understand most of the events that took place
in the novel it is essential to understand how the war erupted. After Serbia
refused to apologize to Austria for the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand,
Germany pushed Austria to declare war. Germanys desire to start a war can be
explained by the internal tensions that were increasing in the country at the
time. The assassination was a timely scapegoat to direct the peoples attention
and animosity to external sources. In short, on July 28, 1914, Austria declared
war on Serbia and the allies of each country joined in, starting this global
war. Paul Baumer is a young soldier who volunteered to enter into the German
army with a group of his schoolmates. All the events that take place in the
novel are seen through Pauls eyes, they are described on the basis of the
perspective of this young soldier. In the first chapter, Paul recalls the
reasons for why he and his friends enlisted. He talks about their schoolmaster,
Kantorek, who would lecture them constantly on the fact that they should join
up (pg. 11). Another reason that played as a factor for many young men being
so enthusiastic to join the army was the propaganda of the time. Nationalism was
the theme in the propaganda that persuaded the men to enlist. It was taught to
young minds that it was their obligation to protect and to die for their country
if they loved their nation and their people. As the novel goes on, it depicts
scenes of combat that Paul lives through. It describes the type of warfare that
is used and the thoughts that run through Pauls mind as he sits in the trench
hoping he doesnt die. As Paul and the other soldiers move closer to the
front, their chances for survival become slimmer. The front that is referred to,
is in Belgium, and it is the boundary that the Germans were invading. The French
and British were attempting to get the Germans out of Belgium and this is where
the fighting that Paul engages in and witnesses takes place. By the sixth
chapter of All Quiet on the Western Front, Paul has reached the front. He
describes it as being …a cage in which we must await fearfully whatever may
happen…and live in a suspense of uncertainty ( pg. 101 ). His description
of his time in the trench evokes emotion in the reader, in that they can get a
feel for the kind of trauma one endures in that situation. The death toll
resulting from the battles on the western front was enormous for both sides.

Germans would advance through the French lines of defense but the French would
hold their positions and slaughter Germans on a massive scale. Both offensive
strategies and defense plans on behalf of both the French and the Germans, were
often ineffective, resulting in casualties and injury. A lot of these strategies
and tactics are described in the novel. Trench warfare is illustrated as Paul
describes his narrow escape from death when a shell lands in the trench he is in
(pg. 106). This back and forth killing ended up as a stalemate that had a death
toll of millions. All Quiet on the Western Front also portrays the use of
the new weapons, never before used in any previous wars. New technology,
mechanization and new tactics of warfare were implemented in the battles of this
war. For the first time soldiers were ordered to dig ditches and fire their
machine guns from behind the walls of these trenches. This became known as
trench warfare and it was an unprecedented strategy that proved to be effective
for a defensive war. New weaponry emerged during this war such as the flame
thrower which was first used by the German army. Paul expresses concern over
this new weapon as he thinks to himself of what weapons the enemy might use (
pg. 105). Chlorine gas was first used in 1915 by the Germans, and Mustard gas,
which causes severe blistering, was introduced two years later ( Text, 891).

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Both sides were capable of creating new weapons of destruction, so this constant
progress only resulted in increasing casualty rates, but no significant
victory. World War I was the bloodiest war that the world had ever experienced.

It came to an end when Germany surrendered in 1918, mainly due to the entering
of the United States on the side of the British. The impact that the war had on
the soldiers is told in All Quiet on the Western Front. Not only does Paul
describe the events that he goes through, but he also describes his
understanding that the war has changed him forever. He doesnt believe that he
can ever return to normal life after having gone through what he has. Facing
death and killing has made him old beyond his years and he confirms that when he
says …Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk (pg. 18). Paul describes
his acknowledgment that the war has transformed him when he describes that the
soldiers have been transformed …into thugs, into murderers, into God only
knows what devils… ( pg.114 ). Naturally a beast is incapable of
returning to a civilian life. This is the unfortunate fate of the soldiers who
survived the war.


Book Reports

All quiet on the western front

Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel set in World War I, centersaround the changes wrought by the war on one young German soldier. During his time in the war, Remarque’s protagonist, Paul Baumer, changes from a rather innocent Romantic to a hardened and somewhat caustic veteran. More importantly, during the course of this metamorphosis, Baumer disaffiliates himself from those societal icons-parents, elders, school, religion-that had been the foundation of his pre-enlistment days. This rejection comes about as a
result of Baumer’s realization that the pre-enlistment society simply does not understand the reality of the Great War. His new society, then, becomes the Company, his fellow trench soldiers, because that isa group which does understand the truth as Baumer has experienced it.

Remarque demonstrates Baumer’s disaffiliation from the traditional by emphasizing the language of Baumer’spre- and post-enlistment societies. Baumer either can not, or chooses not to, communicate truthfully with those representatives of his pre-enlistment and innocent days. Further, he is repulsed by the banal and meaningless language that is used by members of that society. As he becomes alienated from his former, traditional, society, Baumer simultaneously is able to communicate effectively only with his military comrades. Since the novel is told from the first person point of view, the reader can see how the words Baumer speaks are at variance with his true feelings. In his preface to the novel, Remarque maintains that “a generation of men … were destroyed by the war”(Remarque, All Quiet Preface). Indeed, in All Quiet on the Western Front, the meaning of language itself is, to a great extent, destroyed.

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Early in the novel, Baumer notes how his elders had been facile with words prior to his enlistment. Specifically, teachers and parents had used words, passionately at times, to persuade him and other young men to enlist in the war effort. After relating the tale of a teacher who exhorted his students to enlist, Baumer states that “teachers always carry their feelings ready in their waistcoat pockets, and trot them out by the hour” (Remarque, All Quiet I. 15). Baumer admits that he, and others, were fooled by this rhetorical trickery. Parents, too, were not averse to using words to shame their sons into enlisting. “At that time even one’s parents were ready with the word ‘coward'” (Remarque, All Quiet I. 15). Remembering those days, Baumer asserts that, as a result of his war experiences, he has learned how shallow the use of these words was.
Indeed, early in his enlistment, Baumer comprehends that although authority figures taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that, we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards-they were very free with these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. (Remarque, All Quiet I. 17)
What Baumer and his comrades have learned is that the words and expressions used by the pillars of society do not reflect the reality of war and of one’s participation in it. As the novel progresses, Baumer himself uses words in a similarly false fashion.

A number of instances of Baumer’s own misuse of language occur during an important episode in the novel-a period of leave when he visits his home town. This leave is disastrous for Baumer because he realizes that he can not communicate with the people on the home front
because of his military experiences and their limited, or nonexistent, understanding of the war.

When he first enters his house, for example, Baumer is overwhelmed at being home. His joy and relief are such that he cannot speak; he can only weep (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 140). When he and his mother greet each other, he realizes immediately that he has nothing to say to her: “We say very little and I am thankful that sheasks nothing” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 141). But finally she does speak to him and asks, “‘Was it very bad out there, Paul?'” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 143).

Here, when he answers, he lies, ostensibly to protect her from
hearing of the chaotic conditions from which he has just returned. He
thinks to himself,
Mother, what should I answer to that! You would not
understand, you could never realize it. And you never shall
realize it. Was it bad, you ask.-You, Mother,–I shake my
head and say: “No, Mother, not so very. There are always a
lot of us together so it isn’t so bad.” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 143)
Even in trying to protect her, by using words that are false, Baumer creates a separation between his mother andhimself. Clearly, as Baumer sees it, such knowledge is not for the uninitiated. On another level, however, Baumer cannot respond to his mother’s question: he understands that the experiences he has had are so overwhelming that a “civilian” language, or any language at all, would be ineffective in describing them. Trying to replicate theexperience and horrors of the war via words is impossible, Baumer realizes, and so he lies. Any attempt at telling the truth would, in fact, trivialize its reality.

During the course of his leave, Baumer also sees his father. The fact that he does not wish to speak with his parent (i.e., use few or no words at all) shows Baumer’s movement away from the traditional institution of the family. Baumer reports that his father “is curious about the war in a way that I find stupid and distressing; I nolonger have any real contact with him” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 146). In considering the demands of his father to discuss the war, Baumer, once again, realizes the impossibility, and, in this case, even the danger, of trying to relate the reality of the war via language.


There is nothing he likes more than just hearing about it. I
realize he does not know that a man cannot talk of such things; I
would do it willingly, but it is too dangerous for me to put
these things into words. I am afraid they might then become
gigantic and I be no longer able to master them.


(Remarque, All Quiet VII. 146)
Again, Baumer notes the impossibility of making the experience of war meaningful within a verbal context: the war is too big, the words describing it would have to be correspondingly immense and, with their symbolic size, might become uncontrollable and, hence, meaningless.

While with his father, Baumer meets other men who are certain that they know how to fight and win the war. Ultimately, Baumer says of his father and of these men that “they talk too much for me … They understand of course, they agree, they may even feel it so too, but only with words, only with words” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 149). Baumer is driven away from the older men because he understands that the words of his father’s generation are meaningless in that they do not reflect the realities of the world and of the war as Baumer has come to understand them.

Also during his leave, Baumer visits the mother of a fallen comrade, Kemmerich. As he did with his own mother, he lies, this time in an attempt to shield her from the details of her son’s lingering death. Moreover, in this conversation, we see Baumer rejecting yet another one of the traditional society’s foundations: religiousorthodoxy. He assures Kemmerich’s mother that her son “‘died immediately. He felt absolutely nothing at all. His face was quite calm'” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 160). Frau Kemmerich doesn’t believe him, or, at least, chooses not to. She asks him to swear “by everything that is sacred to” him (that is, to God, as far as she isconcerned) that what he says is true (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 160). He does so easily because he realizes that nothing is sacred to him. By perverting this oath, Baumer shows both his unwillingness to communicate honestly with a member of the home front and his rejection of the God of that society. Thus, another break with an aspect of hispre-enlistment society is effected through Baumer’s conscious misuse of language.

During his leave, perhaps Baumer’s most striking realization of the vacuity of words in his former society occurs when he is alone in his old room in his parents’ house. After being unsuccessful in feeling a part of his old society by speaking with his mother and his father and his father’s friends, Baumer attempts to reaffiliate with his past by once again becoming a resident of the place. Here, among his mementos, the pictures and postcards on the wall, the familiar and
comfortable brown leather sofa, Baumer waits for something that will allow him to feel a part of his pre-enlistment world. It is his old schoolbooks that symbolize that older, more contemplative, lessmilitary world and which Baumer hopes will bring him back to his younger innocent ways.
I want that quiet rapture again. I want to feel the same
powerful, nameless urge that I used to feel when I turned to my
books. The breath of desire that then arose from the colored
backs of the books, shall fill me again, melt the heavy, dead
lump of lead that lies somewhere in me and waken again the
impatience of the future, the quick joy in the world of thought,
it shall bring back again the lost eagerness of my youth. I sit
and wait.


(Remarque, All Quiet VII. 151)
But Baumer continues to wait and the sign does not come; the quiet rapture does not occur. The room itself, and the pre-enlistment world it represents, become alien to him. “A sudden feeling of foreignness suddenly rises in me. I cannot find my way back” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 152). Baumer understands that he is irredeemably lost to the primitive, military, non-academic world of the war. Ultimately, the books are worthless because the wordsin them are meaningless. “Words, Words, Words-they do not reach me. Slowly I place the books back in the shelves. Nevermore” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 153). In his experiences with traditional society, Baumer perverts language, that which separates the human from the beast, to the point where it has no meaning. Baumer shows his rejection of that traditional society by refusing to, or being unable to, use the standards of its language.

Contrasted with Baumer’s experiences during his visit home are his dealings with his fellow trench soldiers. Unlike Baumer’s feelings at home where he chooses not to speak with his father and makes an empty vow to Frau Kemmerich, Baumer is able to effect true communication, of both a verbal and spiritual kind, with his fellowtrench soldiers. Indeed, within this group, words can have a meaningful, soothing, even rejuvenating, effect.

Not long after his return from leave, Baumer and some of his comrades go out on patrol to ascertain the enemy’s strength. During this patrol, Baumer is pinned down in a shell hole, becomes disoriented, and suffers a panic attack. He states: “Tormented, terrified, in my imagination, I see the grey, implacable muzzle of a rifle which moves noiselessly before me whichever way I try to turn my head” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 184-85). He is unable to regain his equanimity until he hears voices behind him. He recognizes the voices and realizes that he is close to his comrades in his own trench. The effect of his fellow soldiers’ words on Baumer is antithetical tothe effect his father’s and his father’s friends’ empty words have on him.


At once a new warmth flows through me. These voices, these quiet
words … behind me recall me at a bound from the terrible
loneliness and fear of death by which I had been almost
destroyed. They are more to me than life these voices, they are
more than motherliness and more than fear; they are the
strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the
voices of my comrades.


I am no longer … alone in the darkness;–
I belong to them and they to me; we all share the same fear and
the same life, we are nearer than lovers, in a simpler, a harder
way; I could bury my face in them, in these voices, these words
that have saved me and will stand by me.


(Remarque, All Quiet IX. 186)
Here, Baumer understands the reviving effects of his comrades’ words. Strikingly, as opposed to his town’s citizens’ empty words, the words of Baumer’s comrades actually go beyond their literal meanings. That is, whereas Baumer notices that the words of the traditional world have no meaning, the words of his comrades have more meaning than even they are aware of.


In fact, true communication can exist in the world of the war
with few or no words said at all. This phenomenon is perhaps best
demonstrated in the novel during a scene involving Baumer and his
Second Company mate, Stanislaus Katczinsky. This scene, with its
Eucharistic overtones, can be counterpoised to Baumer’s meeting
with Kemmerich’s mother. During that meeting, Frau Kemmerich insisted
on some kind of verbal attestation of Baumer’s spiritual disposition.
As noted above, he is quite willing to give her such an asseveration
because the words he uses in doing so mean nothing to him. With
Katczinsky, though, the situation is different because the
spirituality of the event is such that words are not necessary, in
fact, would be hindrances to the communion Baumer and Katczinsky
attain.


The scene is a simple one. After Baumer and Katczinsky have stolen a
goose, in a small deserted lean-to they eat it together.


We sit opposite one another, Kat and I, two soldiers in shabby
coats, cooking a goose in the middle of the night. We don’t talk
much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one
another than even lovers have … The grease drips from our
hands, in our hearts we are close to one another … we sit with
a goose between us and feel in unison, are so intimate that we do
not even speak.


(Remarque, All Quiet V. 87)
These elemental and primitive activities of getting and then
eating food bring about a communion, a feeling “in unison,” between
the two men that clearly cannot be found in the word-heavy environment
of Baumer’s home town. Perhaps Remarque wants to make the point that
true communication can occur only in action, or in silence, or almost
accidentally. At any rate, Baumer demonstrates toward the end of his
life that even he is not immune from verbal duplicity of a kind that
was used on him to get him to enlist. Soon after he hears the
comforting words of his comrades (see above), Baumer is caught in
another shell hole during the bombardment. Here, he is forced to kill
a Frenchman who jumps into it while attacking the German lines. Baumer
is horrified at his action. He notes, “This is the first time I have
killed with my hands, whom I can see close at hand, whose death is my
doing” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 193). That is, the war, and his part
in it, have become much more personalized because now he can actually
see the face of his enemy. In his grief, Baumer takes the dead man’s
pocket-book from him so that he can find out the deceased’s name and
family situation. Realizing that the man he killed is no monster,
that, in fact, he had a family, and is evidently very much
like himself, Baumer begins to make promises to the corpse. He
indicates that he will write to his family and goes so far as to
promise the corpse that he, Baumer, will take his place on earth: “‘I
have killed the printer, Gerard Duval. I must be a printer'”
(Remarque, All Quiet IX. 197). More importantly, Baumer renounces his
status as soldier by apologizing to the corpse for killing him.


“Comrade, I did not want to kill you … You were only an idea to
me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth
its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed …
Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never
tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are
just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death,
and the same dying and the same agony-Forgive me, comrade; how
could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this
uniform you could be my brother just like Kat …”
(Remarque, All Quiet IX. 195)
In addition to the obvious brotherhood of nations sentiment that
appears in Baumer’s eulogy, it is interesting to note that Baumer sees
that Duval could have been even closer-like Katczinsky, a member of
Baumer’s inner circle of Second Company.


All of the sentiments, all of the words, that Baumer articulates
to Duval are admirable, but they are absolutely false. As time passes,
as he spends more time with the corpse of Duval in the shell-hole,
Baumer realizes that he will not fulfill the various promises he has
made. He cannot write to Duval’s family; it would be beyond
impropriety to do so. Moreover, Baumer renounces his brotherhood
sentiments: “Today you, tomorrow me” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 197).
Soon, Baumer admits, “I think no more of the dead man, he is of no
consequence to me now” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 198). And later, to
hedge his bets in case there happens to be justice in the universe,
Baumer states, “Now merely to avert any ill-luck, I babble
mechanically: ‘I will fulfill everything, fulfill everything I have
promised you-‘ but already I know that I shall not do so” (Remarque,
All Quiet IX. 198).
Remarque’s point in this episode is clear: no one is exempt from
the perversion of language vis-a-vis the war. Even Paul Baumer, who
had been disgusted by the meaninglessness of language as demonstrated
in his home town, himself uses words and language that are
meaningless. Once he is reunited with his comrades after the shell
hole episode, Baumer admits “it was mere drivelling nonsense that I
talked out there in the shell-hole” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 199). Why
does Baumer do it? Why does he employ the same types of vacuous words
and sentiments that his elders and teachers had used and for which he
has no respect? “It was only because I had to lie One assumes that
this double meaning is apparent only in English. there with him so
long … After all, war is war” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 200).


Ultimately, that is all that and the reader are left
with: war is war. It cannot be defined; it cannot even be discussed
with any accuracy. It has no sense and, in fact, is the embodiment of
a lack of any kind of meaning. In All Quiet on the Western Front,
Erich Maria Remarque shows the disorder created by the war. This
disorder affects such elemental societal institutions as the family,
the schools, and the church. Moreover, the war is so chaotic that it
infects the basic abilities, not the least of which is verbal, of
humanity itself. By showing how the First World War deleteriously
affects the syntax of language, Remarque is able to demonstrate how
the war irreparably alters the order of the world itself.



WORK CITED
Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front.

New York: Ballantine Books, 1984.


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