All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

March 17, 2011
By princeofsparx DIAMOND, Manhattan, New York
princeofsparx DIAMOND, Manhattan, New York
57 articles 8 photos 1 comment

Favorite Quote:
Those who reach for the stars should never forget the flowers that bloom at their feet.

War is never a pretty thing. We’re separated by the ones we love, lose the ones we care about, and forget who we were before it all began. In the novel All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, it proves just that when a group of soldier’s lives are completely turned around due to the effects of war. The narrator and protagonist of the book Paul Baumer, persuaded by his schoolmaster Kantorek, volunteers for the war at the tender age of nineteen with friends Kropp, Muller and Leer, hoping to be considered courageous once he joins the war. Kantorek often calls them the iron youth because he describes their efforts as brave and heroic. As a member of the Second Company, Paul has doubts in his choices when his classmate Joesph Behm is one of the first to die when enlisted in war. To make matters worst, Paul’s friend Kemmerich loses his leg and has a slow and painful death. Paul then has the burden of telling Kemmerich’s mom of her son’s death, especially when she confides in him to watch over her son during the war. As the war continues, the leader of the Second Company Himmelstoss is disliked by many of the soldiers because of his harsh tactics and insensible actions. Himmelstoss was just a postman before the war but is now ranked as a general with his higher status, changing his perception of many things. It is not until he fights on the front line does he gain respect for Paul and the others. When they are deported away from the trenches, Paul, Leer and Kropp meet three young women and offer food in return for the fulfillment of their lust. Paul hopes that his desire to be with the French women will recapture a piece of the innocence that he’s lost. Paul is also sent home on a seventeen-day leave and is greeted by news that his mother has cancer. Paul regrets coming home now because he realizes the life he’s missed out on. It feels that the war is all he’s ever known and even sleeping on a feathery bed is a whole new world opened up to him. Back in the trenches, Paul volunteers to go into no man’s land to gather information on the Germans. A bombardment soon arises and he finds himself stuck in a shell hole with an enemy. He stabs the enemy and watches him die a slow death. Paul has never been involved in hand-to-hand combat and debates whether or not he should write to the enemy’s family, notifying them of his death. He finds the man’s pocketbook and vows to be a printer once this is all over, even though he knows that it will likely be untrue. Unlike the others, Paul feels guilt and despair about the incident. As the war continues, a shell hits him and Kropp and both are sent to the hospital. Paul recovers quickly as Kropp catches a fever, resulting in an amputated leg. As Paul is sent home to recover, his mother is much sicker and his visit is much harder than last time. Detering leaves the army and is captured while Muller is shot in the abdomen. Worst of all, Paul’s closest friend Kemmerich is wounded by a fragment from an exploding shell. The Germans are losing the war and Paul has nothing left. He is the last one to die on a day described as “all quiet on the western front” with a peaceful look on his face, almost as though he was glad that the end has finally come.

One issue raised in the novel is innocence. At the beginning of the book, Paul believes that because he was naïve and young, he did not know what he was getting into when he enlisted in the war. Now that he’s actually here, he learns that war is not as glorious as it seems, it’s hard and brutal. In one scene, Paul and the others are laying around in their shelter wondering how they’re lives are going to be after the war. Tjaden will go back to bring a locksmith, Haie will continue his job of being a peat-digger and Detering will go back to tending his farm with his wife and kids. But Paul and the others wonder what they will do with their lives. Kropp says that after two years of shells and bombing, it’s not that easy to forget what has happened and Paul agrees. At such a young age, the war has destroyed everything for Paul and his friends. Just when they had started to love life at eighteen, it shatters into pieces once they’ve experienced their first bombing or fight. It’s gotten up to the point where they don’t believe in progress as humans anymore, but in the war. The war is all these soldiers have ever known and they don’t think that it can end because this is the life that they now live. I think it’s sad that Paul had his youth taken away from him when it was the one thing that got him into the war. His youth made him believe all the foolish things in life and now it’s gone. War has taken away the innocence of many because it’s a projection of the real world in it’s harshest environment.

Another important issue in the book is comradeship or better yet, friendship. When fighting in an army, it’s not about one person but the group as a whole. In many parts of the book, Paul has countlessly helped his fellow recruits to safety during the bombardments. In one scene, Paul attempts to help put the helmet back on one of the recruits head, but because of his cowardness, the recruit hides under Paul’s arm to feel safe. Paul does not push the boy away but rather put the helmet on his butt to protect his exposed backside to shell fragments. There are also other heroic actions in the book where though the shelling is dangerous, Paul and Kropp attempts to lift a coffin off one of the recruit’s arms despite chances of their hole getting smashed to pieces. Throughout the novel, Paul develops a close relationship with fellow soldier Kat. He sees Kat as a father because it seemed that whenever something was needed, Kat was always the one who would find it. Kat and Paul share many intimate moments in the book, displaying their affection as friends and not aquaintinces during war. When the troops were hungry, Paul and Kat captured chickens and cooked them to eat by a campfire. Thought most of the conversation was awkward, that sort of company was all they needed. Paul even managed to bring some leftovers back to the Second Company. I like this scene the most because it’s an example that you don’t need to talk a lot to get what you want to say through. Both Kat and Paul have been close friends for three long years and knows each other well enough to see what the other person needs. They watch out for each other. For instance, Kat comforted Paul during one of the bombardments when Paul was scared by the amount of bombing that occurred. Also, when Kat is about to die in the end, Paul cries and screams, wondering what he will do without his dearest friend. This shows that in war, you always have to protect yourself but watch out for your comrades as well. When living under terrible conditions like Paul and his company did, the people around you become who you see everyday, they become your family. Comradeship is important in war because it’s an alliance made to always protect and watch out for each other. I think that the biggest issue in this book is the topic of war, and how it has caused pain to so much people in many different ways. Both the Germans and the Russians have had heavy losses in their troops for what reason, just to gain a piece of land and a title? In one scene, Paul sees the captured Russians digging throught the trash cans and realizes that they are not what he’s expected. He expects them to look like the enemy, but just like him, they’re here to fight for their nation and nothing else. They were regular people who had their normal lives taken away when enlisted in the war. I think that the biggest cause of war is the lost of family. There was this one scene where Paul pretends to fall asleep on his last day before returning to his company, and his mom sits next to him. She is breathing hard and he can’t help but wake up and get her to bed. This was a small scene but it was very heartbreaking for me because I felt the emotion of everything that was going on. It’s sad to see what the war has done to Paul’s family and even sadder to see what is to come for them. It almost feels like they have no choice because sacrifices are meant to be made no matter what. The war has caused so much pain to not only Paul as a soldier, but also everyone around him.

After reading this book, I have definitely found much respect for the people fighting in the war today. It’s definitely refreshing to connect this book to real life because I think that people forget sometimes just how lucky they are. I appreciate my life so much more because all of this can be taken away any second now. This book was definitely a positive for me because though the passages are long, the author never fails to surprise me with his constant ideas of friendship and war illustrated over and over again in the book. What I love was how real the characters were, I got to see Paul grow as a person and every now and then, I discover a new facet in his personality. I learned about his struggles, what makes him happy and what destroys him. I surprisingly loved that this was a clear example that not every book necessary needs to have a happy ending, at least not in the form of what most people perceive as a happy ending. Everybody dies in the end and though it’s sad to see the young soldier’s lives come to an end, the calmness described in Paul’s face when he dies makes me realize that this might not be the path that he wanted to take, but he’s happy how it has come to an end. Overall, I enjoyed the book not only because it brings light to issues that most people don’t think too much of, but also because of how real it was. I felt the emotions displayed throughtout the book and though most of them were not happy ones, there were small moments that made it all better. This book is a great and clear piece about what war is really like, and it also shows us that no matter what happens, we should be grateful of everything that we have. I know I am.

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