Following a lesser- thought-about war, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front breaks from the traditional romanticizing of warfare and instead examines the harsh realities that young people face when they are sent to fight old people’s wars.
What it’s about
One of the most acclaimed novels about war follows a former American enemy - Paul Bäumer is a nineteen year old German soldier who has been sent to fight in France (World War I had multiple sites of war – the Eastern was located in Eastern Europe whereas the Western Front was in France).
Paul and his friends joined the war because of the hype and glory that their society impressed upon them. However, Paul quickly learned that war can be full of terror more than glory, and fellow soldiers constantly die around Paul.
The novel primarily surrounds the war’s infamous trench warfare. Paul and his comrades must hide in ditches for hours or days on end until open field attack exposes them to gunfire from both sides, making casualties severe.
Through a series of anecdotes, Paul describes the hardships he and friends must face – avoiding gruesome injuries, searching desperately for food, and trying desperately to mentally withstand traumatic events.
Your favorite part will be
You’ll realize that it wasn’t just you who couldn’t understand why Europeans fought World War I. Paul and his friends have a conversation about how the war was senselessly started by old politicians. According to Paul’s comrades, the leaders were arrogant and concerned with political entanglements and the power that war could bring, not the loss of lives that would result.
The cause-y angles
Violence and the terror of War
The most prominent aspect of the novel is Remarque’s raw accounts of war rather than any kind of romanticism. The reader is supposed to understand the conditions and intense traumas of such fighting, including:
- Rats feast on the bodies and appendages of fallen soldiers
- Heavy combat unearths corpses in a graveyard while soldiers fall dead next to them
- Mueller is shot by a flare gun in the stomach
- Combat and resulting injury leaves Haie’s lung exposed
- A splinter strikes Kat in the head, killing him while in Paul’s arms
Diversity and Understanding
Paul observes Russian prisoners of war and thinks about how they are young men just like him. He questions the power of war to make enemies of people who have never met before, making one consider the other to be subhuman.
After Paul immediately stabs a French soldier who takes cover with him in a shell hole, he instantly feels regret, for he again believes the enemy soldier to be a victim of war just like him.
In war, old people make the decisions but young men have to fight. During the debate among the soldiers, Paul’s former classmate Kropp simply suggests that leaders should settle their arguments by fighting each other directly with clubs, not sending young men to fight to the death.
The government uses propaganda to rally young soldiers. First, Paul’s teacher passes on the excitement that influences the boys to volunteer for the army. However, these thoughts are shattered quickly with the terrors of war. The last element of glorification is truly destroyed when the Kaiser visits. The boys realize that the leader of Germany is not a large, impressive commander but rather a short older man with a weak voice.
Mental Health of Troops
Paul has a difficult time imagining life without war. He can’t seem to relate to his family or anyone else while on leave. He shows signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but even Paul’s mother does not reach out to him regarding his mental health.
After being injured, Kropp plans to commit suicide rather than face the agony and lifelong struggle from amputation.
When the soldiers meet a group of French girls, Paul yearns to return to his previous lifestyle of innocence, but he can’t shake his traumatic experiences of war.
The book often notes how war forces soldiers to suppress or altogether forget about emotions. Muller does not fully take in his friend Kantorek’s oncoming death but merely thinks about taking his boots.