The novel All Quiet on the Western Front was first published in 1929. Although it was characterized as contradictive to the ideology of the time and too honest, the attention to the work that exists till nowadays was great. Remark has looked at the war from a different perspective and represented the victims of the war instead of its heroes. Having participated in the war, he should be regarded not just as the author, but the witness of the terrifying scenes he observed on the European battlefield. This paper will focus on the honesty, cruelty and lack of emotionality in the novel as Remarks’ techniques that make All Quiet on the Western Front stand out among a variety of literary writings about war and its negative aspects that cannot be compensated and put the everlasting imprint on the souls of young people.
The main characters of the novel are the young boys, who “carried their school textbook with enthusiasm” only yesterday, but soon after that went to the Western frontier as the volunteers (Remark 3). The classmates Paul Bäumer, Albert Kropp, Müller, Leer and Franz Kemmerich and their older fellow soldiers Tjaden, Stanislaus Katczinsky, Detering and Haie Westhus do not live and fight, but struggle to survive. Having fallen into the trap of the teacher’s propaganda at first, the young men quickly understood that the war is not the possibility to serve their native country nobly, but a real massacre without anything heroic or human in it, which makes everyone “yell, curse and slaughter” (Remark 108). The authority of the teacher as well as the world view of the young men was ruined right after the first artillery attack. On the battlefield, none of the laws studied at school became necessary whereas the physical laws were changed for the life hacks about how to “eat ices” or “smoke cigarettes” under the rain or to lit a cigarette in the wind (Remark 157). Nevertheless, the most horrible lesson of the war taught how to kill and “stab one clean to the throat” not to let the enemy call out, or stab the abdomen instead of chest to avoid the stabber stick between the ribs (Remark 215). A number of such details that were known to Remark as the witness of this massacre can shock and terrify the readers.
Another life lesson that was learnt by the writer at the war considered the connections between the generations. Though the problem of parents-children communication has been a common one throughout centuries, the World War I has contributed to the growth of breakdown between generations. While the parents wrote the articles and delivered speeches about heroism, their children went through the hospitals and dying soldiers; while the parents put the devotion to the country above all, the children knew that there is nothing stronger that the fear of death. According to Paul, realization of this truth has made them “no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards” (Remark 13). However, it gave them and awful sudden clarification. The heartfelt condolences of the readers toward the protagonists are predetermined by the detailed descriptions of the feeling and thought of the heroes that lead them to inner changes. Remark shows all the steps of the heroes’ changes on the way to becoming cold-hearted, distrustful, ruthless, vindictive and rude. Exactly these traits were necessary to survive. The feeling of strong companion cohesion and mutual support was the only favorable quality he got from the war and barrack experience.
For the heroes of All Quiet on the Western Front, the war takes place in three different fields: on the frontline, in the battlefield and on a home front. It is obvious that the place where the shells and missiles detonate the attacks are followed by the counterattacks and the illuminating rockets that “explode and rain down in showers of red, white and green stars” and the wounded horses cry as if the whole world dies with them (Remark 58). The horrifying, yet realistic image paralyzes the soldiers and makes the earth appear to be the only possibility to hide, the only real rescue. In such a way, the instincts that characterize people on the battlefield can be equaled to those of the wild animal. The war makes human live depend on the occurrence and fate. When the death watches for each soldier with any step and move, everything becomes possible – hiding in the coffins, killing the allies to release their sufferings, searching for bread that was already eaten by rats, listening to the moans and cries of the dying. In contrast to it, the author represents the domestic front, where people live the average lives, read books, play cards, talk to friends while the blood of soldier filled with fear runs in torrents. In order to show how serious the inner changes of people become after war, Remark wrote about Paul’s temporal release. In such a way, through his attempts to submerge into the peaceful life, the protagonist understood that he will never be able to come back to his previous self. The eighteen-year-old guys, who have only started to love life and enjoy it, had to shut it and hit their own hearts. Eventually, they all become different people with a higher or lower level of humanity left inside their souls. The older generation has tighter relations with the past and is less vulnerable to the horrific atmosphere of the war. For them, it is a temporary change while for the young soldiers on the frontline it becomes the way of life and the shatter of all dreams.
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