Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is a powerful novel about the disillusionment brought on by World War I. Before the Great War, many countries in Europe had been extending their powers and establishing empires and strong trade developments. Many in these countries saw these strengths as signs of their nations’ greatness. Also before World War I, there had never been a war that used so much firepower in the form of grenades, mortar shells, machine guns, etc.
Wars were also seen as a moral activity and the winning country often attributed its success to its own virtue. World War I changed all of these opinions and Remarque (who fought in WWI himself) does an excellent job of portraying the horrors of war and the awakening experienced by so many of the young men who fought on the front.
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Before the novel opens, there is a short explanation which states:
“This book is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”(dedication page)
The book’s point of view is that of a German foot soldier who spends much of his time fighting on the front. While other nationalities are mentioned and questioned, Remarque at no time says anything that would offend a reader’s personal loyalties. He simply states what every soldier from each side of the war must have felt as they faced each other in such inhuman circumstances.
The main thing I appreciated in this book was Remarque’s ability to instill in the reader the grotesque images and events that men face in a war. Remarque was able to do this without painting complicated and graphic pictures. The few words he did use sufficed to give the reader enough information to fill in the blanks and see for himself the terrors that Remarque was describing.
Remarque is also able to avoid the obscene language that inevitably flows through a soldier’s vocabulary. He does not try to cover the fact that such words were spoken, he merely leaves the language out and tells the reader that such an answer or statement was given.
As well as giving a report on life on the front line, this book also explores the psychology of the soldiers. There are scenes where the soldiers question their reasons for being where they are. They remember the speeches thrown at them in school about the glory and honour they will receive for defending their country. They ask themselves if the boys on the other side also received such speeches and if so, who was right and who was wrong. They wonder about the issues they are fighting for and many of them realize that they have no idea about why they are there.
At one point the men are dressed up and paraded before their Kaiser. They begin to question the motives of their country and the motives of the others who are involved in the war. As they discuss it one of the men says, “One people offends the other-” Upon which his friend states, “Then I haven’t any business here at all. I don’t feel myself offended.”(p. 204) These statements give an excellent insight into a soldier’s feelings and questions. Remarque is once again able to place the reader inside his characters and let him feel for himself what it must be like to be in such a position.
As far as I’m concerned, this book, All Quiet on the Western Front, gives an eye-opening and realistic view of the terrors of war. Most people recognize war for the horror that it is, and while there may be times when it is unavoidable, most are ready to do everything it takes to avoid such a catastrophe. Unfortunately, though, there are always those that are ready at the slightest provocation to go blindly into the foray. Perhaps if more people read books like this one, they would be more cautious about such hasty action. I highly recommend this book to anyone that is looking for something real and thought-provoking. They will definitely not be disappointed.
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