Erich Maria Remarque wrote “All Quiet On The Western Front”. The book focuses on the hardships of soldiers fighting on the Western Front in France in World War One in order to show that war was futile. The book is written in the first person and it is written from a German’s point of view because the author, Remarque, was a German. It is a story of comradeship, of young soldiers fresh from school enrolling in the German army.
I thought the book was excellent as a portrayal of how hard it was to be a soldier in World War One, how Baumer, the narrator of this book, and his friends had to grow up so quickly. It was very sad when his friends died one by one and he finally died as well at the end of the book. In this study, I am going to look at the relationships between the characters, the main character himself, and the themes present in this novel.
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The main character in this book is the narrator, Paul Baumer. Paul Baumer comes from a small town in Germany. After school, his classmates and he signed up for the War. They did not have much choice; they would have been conscripted anyway. Baumer has become resigned to the war.
Although at the start he probably thought the war glamorous he soon realizes that the only thing keeping him sane was thinking about the end of the war. Paul shows great courage in the face of death; in a very short time, he has grown up a lot and does things he would not have done before the war. He is always ready to help new recruits, to give them tips on how to survive on the front. For instance,
“Close by us there is a recruit, a blonde lad, and he is terrified. He has pressed his face into his hands. His helmet has rolled off. I reach for it and try to put it on his head. He looks up, pushes the helmet away and huddles in under my arm like a child, his head against my chest. His narrow shoulders are shaking, shoulders just like Kemmerich had. I let him stay there. But to get some use out of his helmet I shove it over his backside, not as some kind of a joke, but deliberately because it’s the most exposed area. Even though the flesh is solid, a wound there can be bloody painful, and besides, you have to lie on your stomach for months in a military hospital, and afterwards, you are pretty certain to have a limp.”
It is obvious that Baumer has grown up a lot since he joined. Although he is not more than two years older than the new recruit, he acts like a veteran. Also, there is significance in what he says about the new recruits’ shoulders. Baumer had a friend who died called Kemmerich and he can see a likeness to Kemmerich in the recruit. This is used by the author to show that although it may seem as if they do not really care who dies, they just carry on, in reality, he cared very much for Kemmerich and his way of showing it was to be kind to the new recruit who looked like his dead friend. Baumer definitely enhances the reader’s enjoyment of the book. His loyalty and kindness throughout the hardships he has experienced really warms the reader’s heart and makes the book more enjoyable.
There are strong relationships between the main characters in “All Quiet On The Western Front”. Having grown up together the boys have grown very close so when they go off to the war they keep their friendships and do not mingle with other soldiers much. There is a special relationship between Kat and the narrator, Paul Baumer. They do almost everything together. At one point they decide they are going to go and steal a goose or two of the locals. They do not tell anyone else. Kat helps Paul over the fence and then keeps watch.
Paul gets the geese but just then the watchdog comes out and starts barking and tries to attack Paul so he has to shoot the dog. He then gets away with Kat. They go to a deserted shed near the barracks and roast the geese. You would expect them to eat it all while they are out there because they are always hungry but instead the author has made it so that some is kept for Kat and Paul’s group of friends. This also helps you understand and realize the friendship the war has produced. Before the war, they were already good friends but the author wants to make the point that war is a great way to make friends because you grow to depend on them absolutely, for help, comfort and to keep you sane.
The main theme in this novel is war. It focuses on a group of boys, all from the same class at school in a small German village, who enrol in the German army. The entire book depicts how awful fighting in a war is, how they lose their friends one by one. Many books portray war as a glamorous affair an event that makes, and kills heroes, but “all Quiet on the Western Front” does not do this at all. It shows war for what it really is, a bloody massacre in which millions of innocent people are killed.
“Bentinck has been hit in the chest. A short while later a piece of shrapnel smashes away the lower part of his face. That same piece of shrapnel has enough force lest to rip open Leer’s side. Leer groans and props himself in his arms, but he bleeds to death very quickly and no one can help him. After a few minutes, he sinks down like a rubber tyre when the air escapes. What use is it to him now that he was so good at mathematics at school?”
The author is being so graphic in order to show how pointless it all is, that Leer should not have had to die for Germany, he should be a mathematician in some city, not a bloody piece of meat lest for the rats in no man’s land. This is a technique used quite a lot throughout the book in order to emphasize the pointlessness of war and to make the author realize how hard it was for these common soldiers.
A great aspect of this book is that the author conveys very realistically the hardships these young men have to go through. That at any moment you could lose one of your best friends or be killed yourself for stupid, and not so stupid reasons. When the soldiers are going back to the reserve trenches after fighting on the front they have to remember to keep their heads down or otherwise low-lying telephone wires might cut off their heads. To have survived fighting on the front line and then to be killed going back behind lines would be very ironic.
The author mentions this as another reason why war is so pointless and also to show the absurdity of war. It is great to see that the soldiers have not been completely demoralized by war. When they are behind the front line resting one day they start to play Frisbee with a large margarine tub lid. It is a way to forget about the war and to be carefree and happy even if just for a minute. That in the face of war they are able to do this just shows the readers how strong these soldiers are.
War has a big impact on the second theme, which is friendship and love. War has thrown together a group of young men who have learnt to look after one another. At one point in the novel, Paul Baumer carries Kat over miles and miles of rough ground in order to get him to hospital. You might expect to hear Kat telling Paul to leave him and go on alone as they do in most ‘heroic’ war movies or books, but Kat does not say anything because he has learnt to trust his friend, he knows Paul will try to save him whatever happens.
As it happens when Paul finally finds a dressing station Kat has died from a stray shrapnel wound to the head. He is absolutely distraught as Kat was his best friend. He does not know what to do and because he lost his best friend he starts to give up and I think this is why soon after he himself dies and the book ends. Throughout the whole book, the group is almost always together, whether they are fighting, going to a brothel or just stealing food. “All Quiet on the Western Front” makes you realize that although none of the people are special in the large picture, to each other they are very special, and it also reminds us that they are human lives that are being wantonly wasted for absolutely nothing.
There is a very unusual end to “All Quiet on the Western Front” because in most books of any kind at least one of the heroes or heroines lives to tell the tale whereas in this everyone dies. I think this is a good effect as it is what war is really about, not killing your opponents or getting medals, but dying. In many books, at least one of the ‘gang’ will survive to tell the tale and put flowers on the others’ graves but in this no-one does. This is a lot more realistic because often there will be nobody left from within a group.
The author has intentionally made you realize that the soldiers on both sides are very similar, none of them have a grudge against the people they are killing, they have grudges against the leaders of the country they are fighting. Remarque never made the narrator of the novel call the British and French, who Baumer fighting against, ‘the enemy’, he always called them ‘the other side’. Remarque has shown very well that there is no point in the war, that it’s just wasteful. The author’s own experiences are very relevant to this novel as the novel, although a work of fiction is based on his own experiences of war. Remarque enrolled at an early age, just like the narrator of the novel, and although Remarque did not die during the war, he was injured, just like Baumer, and he did go off to hospitals around Germany. Unlike Baumer though, his active service finished when he was injured; he spent the rest of the war as a clerk behind a desk.
The novel is written in the first person and this is very significant. First-person gives the reader the ability to see into the thoughts of the narrator, you can tell what he is feeling, what he wants to do, what he does not want to do. It helps the reader realize how much Paul needed his friends, that without them he would have gone insane straight away. It gives you an insight into the characters. You realize how kind they were because you could see the reaction their actions had on the narrator. It shows a common person’s view on the war. Most books and films show what it’s like for the heroes, the people who kill a thousand Nazis before breakfast and then go back home for a medal. No medals are awarded to these soldiers, and millions of others like them, who have died for their nation. All these benefits greatly enhance the readers’ enjoyment. It would have been just another war novel, not the masterpiece it turned out to be.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” is principally about war and its absurdity but it is also very much about friendship and surviving against the odds, at least for a while. It is an expertly written novel about the hardships of trench warfare on the Western Front in World War One. Remarque uses his own experiences to make the book a unique insight into World War One, as other writers writing about World War One who haven’t witnessed it first-hand are always going to make it more glamorous than it actually is. It is for this reason that “All Quiet on the Western Front” is infinitely better than all the other war books you have read.
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