.. riven 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 death. Moreover, in this conversation, we see Baumer rejecting yet another one of the traditional foundations: religious obedience.
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). Kemmerichs’ mother doesn’t believe him.
She asks him to swear “by everything that is sacred to” him (that is, to God, as far as she is concerned) 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 corrupting this oath, Baumer shows both his unwillingness to communicate honestly with a member of his home town and his rejection of God in his society. Thus, another break with an look of his past life is effected through Baumer’s conscious misuse of 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 fellow trench soldiers. Indeed, within this group, words can have a meaningful, soothing effect. Not long after his return from leave, Baumer and some of his friends go out on patrol to establish 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 patience until he hears voices behind him. He recognizes the voices and realizes that he is close to his friends in his own trench. The effect of his fellow soldiers’ words on Baumer is contrary to the 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..(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, since 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 circumstance is perhaps best demonstrated in the novel during a scene involving Baumer and his friend, Stanislaus Katczinsky. This scene can be compared to Baumer’s meeting with Kemmerich’s mother.
During that meeting, Kemmerichs’ mother insisted on some kind of verbal statement of Baumer’s spiritual personality. As noted above, he is quite willing to give her such an assertion because the words he uses in doing so means nothing to him. With Katczinsky, though, the situation is different because the spirituality of the event is such that words are not necessary. 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 basic and original activities of getting and then eating food bring about a communion, a feeling “equality,” between the two men that clearly cannot be found in the 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 dishonesty of a kind that was used on him to get him to enlist. Soon after he hears the comforting words of his comrades, 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. Ultimately, that is all that Paul Baumer 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 idealization 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 harmfully affects the syntax of language, Remarque is able to demonstrate how the war hopelessly changes the order of the world itself.