A Disease or famine can be an awful thing. It can spread throughout towns and cities quickly, leaving thousands dead and the city in catastrophe. This spread of death and decay can be compared to the situation Paul and the other soldiers face in All Quiet On The Western Front, written by Erich Maria Remarque. In this book, the author shows strong feelings of despair towards war. This is done using the theme of decay, showing how Paul and the men become corrupted forever by the war. It also uses the theme of Death is Useless, by presenting the suffering of the wounded and killed men as meaningless and useless. Lastly, this book displays the theme of Bestiality, by showing how the situation of war brings out the worst and most blood-thirsty side of the soldiers.
Decay is probably the biggest theme in the book and is the way the author most displays the despair of war. The author shows how the war and the death and destruction around is deteriorating the condition of the soldiers, and how the soldiers become numb to the horrors of war. One example of this is “He does not stir, his lips quiver, his mustache twitches.” (p.131). This shows how the men have decayed past the point of no return. They are totally desensitized to the war, so they simply do not react to it at all. All they hear is a “monotonous cry” (p.74) of the wounded. Another example of decay is how Paul reacts to his leave with his mother. “What is leave? A pause that only makes everything after it so much worse.” (p. ). Paul is still in a state of Decay even though he should be happy, on leave with his mother. The war has affected him such that he cannot put it out of his mind, even for a few days. “Monotonously the lorries sway, monotonously come to the calls, monotonously falls the rain.” (p.74). This is another example of how Paul feels total apathy for everything around him because if he did not he would go mad. “They can no longer distinguish whence in this now quiet silvery landscape it comes.” (p. ). The soldiers are decayed to the point where they do not hear the pain and suffering of wounded men, only an anonymous screaming in the back of their minds. This quote also shows the once beautiful landscape has become soiled with the gruesome war. Decay is clearly the most prominent theme in All Quiet On The Western Front.
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The theme of Death is Useless is another major theme in All Quiet On The Western Front. Paul and the other soldiers feel helpless and confused as they experience the suffering on the battlefield, and in the hospital afterwards. The vivid, gory descriptions of dead soldiers (or parts of dead soldiers) illustrate this well. “Meyer is dead, Hammering is dead, Max is dead.” (p.139). All or most of Paul’s friends are dead, and he reads them off one-by-one, showing how little their life or death means to him or anyone. In the hospital, Paul sees many dies and they are replaced with no hesitation. (“We see many come and go” (p.257)). “Day by day goes by with pain and fear, groans and death gurgles.” (p.261). Paul has seen so much death and suffering that it no longer means anything to him, even though they are out of the war but still people are dying for no reason. They die without dignity or honour, they simply fade away in a mass of “death gurgles (p. 261)”. “We see time pass in the colourless faces of the dying.” This quote shows how the author tries to show a feeling of hopelessness and despair in the whole war in general. Death is Useless is a theme that ties the whole book together under a feeling of despair.
Bestiality is one of the themes that Erich Maria Remarque uses to show the despair of war. He does this by showing you how the war turns the soldiers into wild savage animals, whose only concerns are to kill and to not be killed themselves. They show no remorse or guilt or even the slightest care for anyone when they “reach the zone where the front begins and become on the instant human animals.” (p. ). “We have become wild beasts. We do not fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation.” (p.113). This shows how the men lose their sense of thought and intelligence when they reach this state, they only have their primal instincts to rely on. They go into a dark and inhuman state, which allows them to run and kill without remorse or guilt. “Faces are distorted, arms strikeout and the beasts scream; we just stop in time to avoid attacking each other.” (p. ). This quote clearly shows how the author displays the confusion and rage in the situation. The men are so filled with violence and aggression, that they almost attack their own comrades. Their mindset is that of an animal because they almost cannot distinguish an ally from an enemy, it is all just a blur of death and destruction. This is why the book shows bestiality in the support of the theme of despair of war.
The despair in this book destroys the soldier’s lives, in one way or another. They are affected in such a way that they cannot ever be cured, their lives are never the same. The decay deteriorates the mental and physical condition of the soldiers, and death is useless shows how much the suffering and death of the men go against reason and logic. Bestiality shows the primal instincts of the soldiers and how they are brought out in a most destructive way by the war. The war can be compared to disease in that it does through the men fast and mercilessly, leaving none unharmed. The war destroys everything, the land, and the soldiers, both mentally and physically, and this is why the book All Quiet On The Western Front shows the theme of despair.
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