All Quiet on the Western Front is an interesting and thrilling story that displays struggle and misery of a group of soldiers, as well as the whole nation. The author of the book, Erich Maria Remarque, perfectly demonstrates all the terrors of World War I. The main themes of the book include horror of war, the ways it ha affected people, and the power of nationalism and politics. The major character of the story, Paul Baumer, reveals the events that happened to him and his comrades during their service as soldiers. Together with his classmates, Paul experiences pain, loss of their youth, fear, and disillusionment with their principles and beliefs. In his novel, Remarque allows the audience to look deeper into the realities of war. The author develops his characters in a way that provides readers with an opportunity to see the life of Paul and his friends. Moreover, the book is filled with cold facts that add a dramatic effect to it. This approach allows the audience to see the reality of war and experiences of people who directly participated in it. Therefore, All Quiet on the Western Front is a book about the rejection of reality, disillusionment, and painful experiences shown through the eyes of the main character.
The horror of the war can be regarded as one of the fundamental ideas explored in Remarque’s book. Through the words and feelings of Paul Baumer, the audience witnesses the terrible brutality of the war. Every scene in the literary work unfolds the pain and loss the war brings to people who either participate in it or wait for its ending on the peaceful territory. At the same time, Remarque does not romanticize the events of the war underlining the glory, honor, heroism, and patriotic duty. On the contrary, the author portrays the actual face of the war, specifically fear, massacre, and despair it evoked. In fact, the novel reveals the meaninglessness of the war that only deprives people of their lives and makes the nations enemies. While many of the horrors experienced by Paul and his friends are physical, mental, and emotional, such depiction of a war is completely justified. In this regard, the book changes the way people comprehend the conception of a military conflict. Thus, the author represents the scenes of violence, cruel battles that might last for months, and numerous deaths the war actually brought. Furthermore, Remarque depicts new technological advancements used during the war in order to facilitate killing and make it impersonal, “Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades – words, words, but they hold the horror of the world” (132). Thereby, the book dramatizes these features of war, depicting its horrible and bloody episodes.
Remarque’s book also shows the ways World War I affects the main characters. While the novel focuses on the soldiers struggling on the front, it depicts the ruinous impact of the war on the lives of these young men. The main characters of the story, Paul and his comrades, are constantly in danger. All of them risk being shot down or killed by the explosive power of a bomb at any moment. This threat to the lives of the youngsters also serves as a raising pressure on their mental health. Being forced to cope with instinctive fear, the characters could make deeds they would never do in the normal life. According to Remarque, “A man cannot realize that above such shattered bodies there are still human faces in which life goes its daily round” (263). Thus, constant murders and deaths become a part of a soldiers’ daily life. Moreover, the young men have to live in terrible conditions. In fact, they live together with rats and rotting corpses in dirty and drowned ditches. The soldiers very often are hungry, lack proper medical care, and do not have an opportunity to sleep. Additionally, Remarque’s characters have to cope with unpredictable and sudden deaths of their friends. Therefore, World War I has a destructive effect on the characters, evoking panic and despair.
Furthermore, the author portrays the great power of nationalism and politics during the war. While the idea of nationalism, as well as desire to occupy the leading place in the world arena, are prevailing conceptions of World War I, similarly to many youngsters, Paul and his friends decide to participate in the war. However, these youthful dreams are quickly debunked. In his book, Remarque shows the real picture of the war, criticizing the idea of nationalism and belief in political values. The author opposes hollow and hypocritical nationalist ideology to the actual experience of the young men on the front. The real face of the war’s horrors is so frightful and cruel that Paul and his comrades understand the meaning of their dedication.
We came to realise – first with astonishment, then bitterness, and finally with indifference – that intellect apparently wasn’t the most important thing…not ideas, but the system; not freedom, but drill. We had joined up with enthusiasm and with good will; but they did everything to knock that out of us. (33)
Thus, neither nationalism nor politics could justify the loss and misery World War I brought. In this respect, the book demonstrates the readers that soldiers on the battlefield fight not for the victory of their nation but for their own lives.
At the same time, all the events depicted in the story unfold through the eyes of the main character, Paul Baumer. Being the central figure in the novel, the young man reveals Remarque’s meditations and reflection on the war. Being full of enthusiasm and energy, Paul joins the army. Nevertheless, a reader gradually becomes acquainted with his real experiences, “We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war” (Remarque 88). Throughout the novel, the character is literally torn between his own feelings and actions the war forces him to take. The youngster frequently recalls the time before the war that contrasts with his contemporary experiences. Just recently he was a sensitive young man, but now Paul transforms into a killing machine that knows nothing about compassion. Facing loss and pain, the character learns how to reject reality and keep his emotions under control. In fact, the war changes Paul – he no longer believes in the ideology that made him become a soldier. As a result, the youngster, as well as his friends, experience disillusionment with their previous ideals and principles. Thereby, Paul is a representation of many young men who have lost their innocence, as well as comprehension of self, fighting in World War I.
In his novel, Remarque raises many important themes, but the main aim of his literary work is to depict the real picture of the war and experiences of the youngsters who participated in it. Through Paul’s feelings and emotions, the audience becomes aware of the actual atmosphere characteristic of the war and daily life of soldiers. All Quiet on the Western Front is a thought-provoking and touching book that forces readers to comprehend the pain and miseries of people who are directly or indirectly related to military actions. Therefore, people should read and study Remarque’s novel in order to understand the nature of the war and the consequences it brings.