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Western Front

In: English and Literature

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All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel by Erich Maria Remarque. The novel is about the experiences of ordinary German soldiers during the war. It is based on Remarque’s own experiences at war which enabled him to capture the realism and authenticity needed to exemplify the feelings of a soldier. Through the novel he was able to capture the feeling of seclusion and loneliness among the soldiers. In 1916, he was drafted into the German army to fight in World War I, in which he was badly wounded. In 1926, after the war ended, he published Im Westen Nichts Neues which he later translated into English as All Quiet on the Western Front. The novel has been heralded by critics throughout the world as the greatest war novel of all time. It helped capture every thought that went through a soldier’s mind who belonged to the "lost generation".

War changes life. Conditioned by the aggression and lifestyle of being a soldier, young adult Paul Baumer in Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front, over the course of four years, changed from a naive high school graduate to a mature but disillusioned adult. The violence and trauma in the trenches of World War I exposed Paul to the horrors of injuries and infections, the fragile state of life, the terrors of death and dying, and the unbearable feeling of being isolated from friends and family. Through experiencing Kemmerich’s tragic death, going on break, and finally witnessing French soldier Gerard Duval’s death, young Paul matures from an anxious and excited teenager to a shattered and devastated but humane adult.

Paul is not only a famous war hero and a famous writer but also a regular old Joe with a family at home in a cute little German village. He likes to drink beer and think about girls, and, when he was home, he was in the process of writing a play called Saul – he likes to write and tell stories. He is been to school and he likes to read books, but he is too young to have had any major life experiences before enlisting in the war. He is a typical teenage boy – excited for his future, but still naive to certain things in life. That is, until the war changes everything and makes him an expert in death. Because of the horrors of the war and the anxiety it includes, Paul, like the other soldiers learns to disconnect his mind from his feelings, keeping his emotions at bay in order to preserve his sanity and survive.

To survive such a gruesome war, Paul must disconnect his artistic and poetic inner self from his outer, gun-toting, animalistic self. It is his need to suppress his emotion in his storytelling. For example, instead of writing diary entry about how sad he is to lose Albert Kropp, he simply writes that he had to leave his friend. He fights battles, plays pranks, gets injured, goes home, makes friends, loses loved ones, leads men, and eventually dies a death that is painted as relief. Paul needs to kill his soft, kind, inner self in order to continue to survive. Paul is dead before he has physically died. This is also emphasized in the epigraph to the book: "This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.”

Lost Generation in the novel All Quiet on the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque shows how the soldiers in World War I are disillusioned and surrounded by human suffering. Surrounded by death and suffering, the soldiers lose interest in war. The war slowly shapes the attitudes and thoughts of the soldiers toward going home. The lost generation was formed by the constant isolation, violence and disillusionment of the German soldiers of World War I. The novel illustrates the isolation the men must endure in battle causing them to lose their ambition for a good life, resulting in a lost generation. When the Paul Baumer and his classmates had no idea about the world, they joined the Army and were sent off to fight. No one back home knows what the war is like; and the soldiers do not seem to remember what home is like either. Even when Paul returns home on leave, he feels isolated from the world. He is uncomfortable about being away from his friends and uncomfortable talking to the people in his hometown because he feels like an outsider. Paul remembers his life at home when he had goals and when he strived for doing good in school to get a job. His high hopes and dreams were destroyed by the war."We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war." Paul and the rest of the soldiers have lost interest in civilian life. The noises of men crying for help when wounded and the calm silence of the dead, mixed with the sounds of shelling and gun fire causes the men to realize that war is their life. All Paul knows is war and there now is no way does he feels he can return and live the normal life he had planned.

Paul is a reflection of his friends in many ways. They are all examples of "good young men" who are trying to follow their morals and ideals and do what is right with the talents they've been given. There is essentially never any conflict among the friends; they behave as almost one unified body. In fact Paul's friends are his reason for living. Even when he goes on leave at home he misses his wartime "family." By the end of the novel, Paul is the only one among his circle of friends still living – he has watched nearly all of his friends Kemmerich, Muller, Kropp, Kat, Bertinck disappear. Each death affects him in a different way, tearing something of his humanity away from him. When all of his friends have died, Paul doesn't have anything left to live for.

Paul is completely devoted to his mother and when he is before her, he crumbles emotionally. He cannot forget how much she has sacrificed so that he might live a full and healthy life. His mother is sick with cancer and is about to die. He feels himself emotionally changed from naive boy into hardened soldier. Her sickness indicates to him that there is no peace for him on earth. Paul's father, however, is insensitive, and uncaring. His core focus is showing off Paul to his friends so that Paul can tell glamorous battlefield stories for their entertainment. In Paul's mind, the retelling of such horrible tales lessens the honor of the men who died, making them objects. He appears to simply tolerate his father. Kat is a father figure to Paul as he takes the role of mentor and friend in Paul's life. He is a leader, helping Paul learn how to cope with the war.

Paul is ready to do anything for Kat. When he is wounded one summer day, Paul binds his wound and then carries him though the storm of gunfire to the nearest makeshift hospital. Paul puts his own life on the line so that he might save the life of his closest friend. When he realizes that a shrapnel splinter has hit the back of Kat's head and that Kat has died, Paul is devastated. Not long after this incident Paul dies. Kat is among the last of Paul's friends to be killed, so without him, Paul has little meaning to give his life.

Paul has a demurring, unvengeful way of thinking about clueless authority figures that make his life miserable: Kantorek, Himmelstoss, and the major he runs into in his village who makes him salute and march. Paul treats all of them with a passive aggressive respect, just enough respect to get past them and move on. Paul does not aspire to being authority; he is painted as a passive human being, with few goals other than "animalistically" surviving another day.

Paul learns that he is part of a ruined generation, a lost generation. As a young man in his late teens, he begins the war with lots to live for. All he knows are his schoolbooks, his family, his hometown, and his love of writing. He still has a lot to learn and see of the world. War scares that desire and hunger for knowledge away. As a soldier Paul learns how to kill and, more importantly, how not to be killed. He hopes to be a writer and to uncover the realities of the war, realities of which were downplayed by German politicians and newspapers. When the novel ends, Paul has learned that the war has robbed him of his future. He dies soon after this realization hits.

All Quiet on the Western Front expresses how innocent young boys lost their lives at the hands of men who controlled the war and had no understanding of the horrors and devastation that they were creating. It is hard to conclude to what became of the lost generation. The whole of All Quiet on the Western Front is facts based on a series of antithesis's which reflect various levels of alienation in the minds of the small but dwindling band of comrades.

Paul’s experience is intended to represent the experience of a whole generation of men, the so-called lost generation—men who went straight from childhood to fighting in World War I, often as adolescents. Paul frequently considers the past and the future from the perspective of his entire generation, noting that, when the war ends, he and his friends will not know what to do, as they have learned to be adults only while fighting the war. The longer that Paul survives the war and the more that he hates it, the less certain he is that life will be better for him after it ends. This anxiety arises from his belief that the war will have ruined his generation, will have so eviscerated his and his friend’s minds that they will always be “bewildered.” Against such depressing expectations, Paul is relieved by his death: “his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.” The war becomes not merely a traumatic experience or a hardship to be endured but something that actually transforms the essence of human existence into irrevocable, endless suffering. The war destroys Paul long before it kills him.


1. Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front, London: Putnam & Company Ltd, 1970

2. Patrick Clardy: All Quiet on the Western Front: Reception, Yale Modernism Lab, 3 June 2013

3. Modris Eksteins: All Quiet on the Western Front and the fate of war, Journal of Contemporary History (SAGE publication), April 1980




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