Monday, February 1, 2016
"All Quiet on the Western Front" Analytical Paper
Written in Early December 2003 as a High School Writing Workshop Piece
Edited on February 1st, 2016
In All Quiet on the Western Front, author Erich Maria Remarque uses vivid and frightening details in his depiction of war scenes in order to show his reader how terrible, frustrating, confusing, and emotion-filled war is. Although the author often juxtaposes good and bad in order to show how much worse the bad is, he is still able to do so just by showing what goes through narrator and main character Paul Bäumer’s mind during the various bombardments throughout the book. Remarque also tells what war can do to one’s mind, by describing the thoughts and beliefs that Bäumer and the other recruits have while they are not in the trenches. The author explores further, the feelings, and changes of feelings, the recruits have about warfare when they come face-to-face with the enemy. Throughout All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque reveals to his readers that war is a heartless, thoughtless, barbaric reality, and not some romantic notion of the triumph of right over wrong, and that the lives of real people with families and cares and goals can be cut short with as little as one command to fire.
Sometimes, Remarque illustrates the horrors of war by writing about something simple and beautiful, and then he gives his reader a sudden reminder that death is in the air. But putting good next to bad is an easy way to emphasize the bad, and Remarque’s talent in writing thorough, detailed passages filled with raw emotion, dramatically surpasses his efforts to use juxtaposition of good and bad. This is especially evident in the scene in chapter nine, when Bäumer stabs a French soldier, and then tries to keep him from dying. On pages 218-219, Bäumer says of the soldier, “he gazes at me with a look of utter terror. The body lies still, but in the eyes there is such an extraordinary expression of fright that for a moment I think they have enough power to carry the body off with them” … “All the life is gathered together in” the eyes “for one tremendous effort to flee,” ... “in a dreadful terror of death, of me.” A person in heavy machine gun bombardment, conditioned to think and act on instinct, would never be able to think so quickly, but Remarque does not write the underdeveloped words a World War I soldier would have had; rather, he tells of the deep feelings he would have upon reflection of the war. Bäumer can feel what the wounded enemy feels, and through his guilt and remorse, and desperate need to revive a stranger whom he has no reason to hate, he is able to get inside his body, and know what he is experiencing.
Remarque asks the inevitable big war question, “what are we fighting for?”, to demonstrate that war does not always have a purpose, and even those who die for their country do not have an answer, and have no conceivable reason to risk their lives. Remarque writes about this lack of sense of direction and purpose at the beginning of chapter nine, as Bäumer, Tjäden, Kropp, Müller, Katzcinsky, and Albert answer each other’s questions about why they think the war began and why it was still going on. On page 203, Kropp says, “We are here to protect our Fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their Fatherland. Now who’s in the right?”. On the next page, Albert answers Tjäden’s question about how the war starts, and Albert replies, “Mostly by one country badly offending the other”, to which Tjäden argues, “I don’t feel myself offended.” They decide that the war is useful to nobody but emperors and generals. This conversation demonstrates that one will fight even if he doesn’t have any personal reason. The men have no anger towards their enemy, don’t feel threatened, and they only fight because of the supposed obligation to serve their country. No one among them can justify declaring war on another group of human beings, and this passage makes “what are we fighting for?” more necessary to ask.
Again, chapter nine serves as the best forum in which to question the morals and purposes of violence. Remarque has the narrator sum up all the anti-war beliefs at once on page 223, when he speaks to the dead body of the French soldier he was unable to save. He says, “Comrade, I did not want to kill you” … “You were only an idea to me before, and abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response” … “But now, I see you are a man just like me” … “now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship” … “If we threw away these rifles and uniform you could be my brother.” Through this speech, Remarque gives the reader hope that violence and hatred can be ended if one can see up close the agony of suffering caused by the thoughtless mass murder of one people by another. This book by itself hopes to accomplish just that; to show as many as possible what really happens when men are told to kill each other.
Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is a well-written, thought-provoking, successful anti-war novel. It shows in graphic detail the atrocities committed by people who don’t know why they do it and are afraid to ask why. The novel tosses aside the idea that if a country is threatened, its soldiers must obey commands and do exactly as told. It instead states that without questioning and doubt and philosophy, man is doomed to an existence filled with violence that will never, and can never, end.