All Quiet On The Western Front

.. rapture does not occur. The room itself, and the pre-enlistment world it represents, become alien to him. “A sudden feeling of foreignness suddenly rises in me. I cannot find my way back” (Remarque, All Quiet VII.

152). Baumer underezds that he is irredeemably lost to the primitive, military, non-academic world of the war. Ultimately, the books are worthless because the words in them are meaningless. “Words, Words, Wordsthey do not reach me. Slowly I place the books back in the shelves. Nevermore” (Remarque, All Quiet VII.

153). In his experiences with traditional society, Baumer perverts language, that which separates the human from the beast, to the point where it has no meaning. Baumer shows his rejection of that traditional society by refusing to, or being unable to, use the ezdards of its language. Contrasted with Baumers experiences during his visit home are his dealings with his fellow trench soldiers. Unlike Baumers feelings at home where he chooses not to speak with his father and makes an empty vow to Frau Kemmerich, Baumer is able to effect true communication, of both a verbal and spiritual kind, with his fellow trench soldiers.

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Indeed, within this group, words can have a meaningful, soothing, even rejuvenating, effect. Not long after his return from leave, Baumer and some of his comrades go out on patrol to ascertain the enemys strength. During this patrol, Baumer is pinned down in a shell hole, becomes disoriented, and suffers a panic attack. He states: “Tormented, terrified, in my imagination, I see the grey, implacable muzzle of a rifle which moves noiselessly before me whichever way I try to turn my head” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 184-85).

He is unable to regain his equanimity until he hears voices behind him. He recognizes the voices and realizes that he is close to his comrades in his own trench. The effect of his fellow soldiers words on Baumer is antithetical to the effect his fathers and his fathers friends empty words have on him. At once a new warmth flows through me. These voices, these quiet words .. behind me recall me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of death by which I had been almost destroyed.

They are more to me than life these voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear; they are the strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades. I am no longer .. alone in the darkness;– I belong to them and they to me; we all share the same fear and the same life, we are nearer than lovers, in a simpler, a harder way; I could bury my face in them, in these voices, these words that have saved me and will ezd by me. (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 186) Here, Baumer underezds the reviving effects of his comrades words. Strikingly, as opposed to his towns citizens empty words, the words of Baumers comrades actually go beyond their literal meanings.

That is, whereas Baumer notices that the words of the traditional world have no meaning, the words of his comrades have more meaning than even they are aware of. In fact, true communication can exist in the world of the war with few or no words said at all. This phenomenon is perhaps best demonstrated in the novel during a scene involving Baumer and his Second Company mate, Stanislaus Katczinsky. This scene, with its Eucharistic overtones, can be counterpoised to Baumers meeting with Kemmerichs mother. During that meeting, Frau Kemmerich insisted on some kind of verbal attestation of Baumers spiritual disposition.

As noted above, he is quite willing to give her such an asseveration because the words he uses in doing so mean nothing to him. With Katczinsky, though, the situation is different because the spirituality of the event is such that words are not necessary, in fact, would be hindrances to the communion Baumer and Katczinsky attain. The scene is a simple one. After Baumer and Katczinsky have stolen a goose, in a small deserted lean-to they eat it together. We sit opposite one another, Kat and I, two soldiers in shabby coats, cooking a goose in the middle of the night.

We dont talk much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have .. The grease drips from our hands, in our hearts we are close to one another .. we sit with a goose between us and feel in unison, are so intimate that we do not even speak. (Remarque, All Quiet V. 87) These elemental and primitive activities of getting and then eating food bring about a communion, a feeling “in unison,” between the two men that clearly cannot be found in the word-heavy environment of Baumers home town. Perhaps Remarque wants to make the point that true communication can occur only in action, or in silence, or almost accidentally.

At any rate, Baumer demonstrates toward the end of his life that even he is not immune from verbal duplicity of a kind that was used on him to get him to enlist. Soon after he hears the comforting words of his comrades (see above), Baumer is caught in another shell hole during the bombardment. Here, he is forced to kill a Frenchman who jumps into it while attacking the German lines. Baumer is horrified at his action. He notes, “This is the first time I have killed with my hands, whom I can see close at hand, whose death is my doing” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 193). That is, the war, and his part in it, have become much more personalized because now he can actually see the face of his enemy.

In his grief, Baumer takes the dead mans pocket-book from him so that he can find out the deceaseds name and family situation. Realizing that the man he killed is no monster, that, in fact, he had a family, and is evidently very much like himself, Baumer begins to make promises to the corpse. He indicates that he will write to his family and goes so far as to promise the corpse that he, Baumer, will take his place on earth: “I have killed the printer, Gerard Duval. I must be a printer” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 197).

More importantly, Baumer renounces his status as soldier by apologizing to the corpse for killing him. “Comrade, I did not want to kill you .. You were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed .. Forgive me, comrade.

We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agonyForgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat ..” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 195) In addition to the obvious brotherhood of nations sentiment that appears in Baumers eulogy, it is interesting to note that Baumer sees that Duval could have been even closerlike Katczinsky, a member of Baumers inner circle of Second Company. All of the sentiments, all of the words, that Baumer articulates to Duval are admirable, but they are absolutely false. As time passes, as he spends more time with the corpse of Duval in the shell-hole, Baumer realizes that he will not fulfill the various promises he has made.

He cannot write to Duvals family; it would be beyond impropriety to do so. Moreover, Baumer renounces his brotherhood sentiments: “Today you, tomorrow me” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 197). Soon, Baumer admits, “I think no more of the dead man, he is of no consequence to me now” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 198). And later, to hedge his bets in case there happens to be justice in the universe, Baumer states, “Now merely to avert any ill-luck, I babble mechanically: I will fulfill everything, fulfill everything I have promised you but already I know that I shall not do so” (Remarque, All Quiet IX.

198). Remarques point in this episode is clear: no one is exempt from the perversion of language vis-a-vis the war. Even Paul Baumer, who had been disgusted by the meaninglessness of language as demonstrated in his home town, himself uses words and language that are meaningless. Once he is reunited with his comrades after the shell hole episode, Baumer admits “it was mere drivelling nonsense that I talked out there in the shell-hole” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 199).

Why does Baumer do it? Why does he employ the same types of vacuous words and sentiments that his elders and teachers had used and for which he has no respect? “It was only because I had to lie [One assumes that this double meaning is apparent only in English.] there with him so long .. After all, war is war” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 200). Ultimately, that is all that Paul Baumer and the reader are left with: war is war. It cannot be defined; it cannot even be discussed with any accuracy. It has no sense and, in fact, is the embodiment of a lack of any kind of meaning.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque shows the disorder created by the war. This disorder affects such elemental societal institutions as the family, the schools, and the church. Moreover, the war is so chaotic that it infects the basic abilities, not the least of which is verbal, of humanity itself. By showing how the First World War deleteriously affects the syntax of language, Remarque is able to demonstrate how the war irreparably alters the order of the world itself. — WORK CITED Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front.

New York: Ballantine Books, 1984.

All Quiet on the Western Front

The remains of Paul Baumer’s company had moved behind the German front
lines for a short rest at the beginning of the novel. After Behm became
Paul’s first dead schoolmate, Paul viewed the older generation bitterly,
particularly Kantorek, the teacher who convinced Paul and his classmates to
join the military, feeling alone and betrayed in the world that they had
left for him. Paul’s generation felt empty and isolated from the rest of
the world due to the fact that they had never truly established any part of
themselves in civilian life. At boot camp, Himmelstoss abused Paul and his
friends, yet the harassment only brought them closer together and developed
a strong spirit amongst them. Katczinsky, or Kat, was soon shown to be a
master scavenger, being able to provide the group with food or virtually
anything else; on this basis Paul and him grew quite close. Paul’s unit
was assigned to lay barbed wire on the front line, and a sudden shelling
resulted in the severe wounding of a recruit that Paul had comforted
earlier. Paul and Kat again strongly questioned the War. After Paul’s
company were returned to the huts behind the lines, Himmelstoss appeared
and was insulted by some of the members of Paul’s unit, who were then only
mildly punished. During a bloody battle, 120 of the men in Paul’s unit were
killed. Paul was given leave and returned home only to find himself very
distant from his family as a result of the war. He left in agony knowing
that his youth was lost forever. Before returning to his unit, Paul spent
a little while at a military camp where he viewed a Russian prisoner of war
camp with severe starvation problems and again questioned the values that
he had grown up with contrasted to the values while fighting the war.
After Paul returned to his unit, they were sent to the front. During an
attack, Paul killed a French soldier. After discovering that this soldier
had a family, Paul was deeply shattered and vowed to prevent other such
wars. Paul’s unit was assigned to guard a supply depot of an abandoned
village, but he and Kropp were soon wounded when trying to escape from the
village. Paul headed back to the front, only to engage in final battles
where all of his friends were killed. The death of Kat was particularly
hard for Paul because they were very close. One month before the Armistice,
Paul was killed.

Ramarque’s purpose in writing this book was to display the hidden costs of
war. The physical aspects of death and wounds did not begin to portray the
mental anguish that the soldiers experienced during and after the war. He
hoped to show the results of war on an entire generation; a loss of
innocence in life which those who were once soldiers could never replace.
Remarque’s message came across very clearly. There were constant
tragedies which forced Paul or the other soldiers to question war and
become detached from civilian life. After viewing the death of a close
friend and a recruit whom he had comforted earlier, Paul went home finding
that war had isolated him from his family and his childhood. With the
return to his unit he again felt the presence of belonging. Soldiers had
become his family. The mental anguish was again vividly displayed after
Paul killed a French soldier; discovering that the soldier had a family,
Paul slipped into a deep agony vowing to prevent such wars from again
occurring. The depth of the emotions that soldiers experienced created a
very believable example of the psychological impacts of war.

A strong bias against war in general was shown in this novel. The
experience of “lostness” from society as a result of war seemed to be a
point presented often and possibly an experience of Remarque. Numerous
times Paul found his unit to be separated from the rest of the world. He
found no belonging to civilization but instead a brotherhood amongst his
comrades in the military. The constant questioning of war and its values
was presented very frequently and in fact may have included a few of
Remarque’s own questions of society and biases against the immorality and
murder committed during war.

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I have gained a great deal of insight into World War I from this novel.
Previously, I understood the diplomacy and the military strategies involved
with this war, but I have now also been exposed to the physical and
foremost mental anguish that the soldiers on the front experienced. I had
never thought about a soldier’s loss of identity when leaving behind all of
the values, schooling, and family that once revolved around them. A new
perspective of the battlefield was presented in which soldiers of opposite
forces are in much of the same state: frightened human beings with family
and loved ones at home, attempting to avoid death each day by whatever
means possible; many very likely questioning the purpose of war as Paul
constantly did. Many conflicts of values were presented constantly
throughout the course of World War I. One of the strongest which I had not
previously considered was the fact that as children homicide is certainly
presented as a terrible act, yet on the front an unseen document legalizes
mass murder. As a result of this novel, I can now clearly see how the
mental anguish of soldiers on the front developed.

This novel was written very well. The plot was fast paced and the
incredibly realistic war depiction’s kept my attention alone. Yet merged
with the physical activity in this book was an extraordinary depth of the
emotional impacts of the war upon the soldiers. I did not find the
characters to be superficial in any way. Their physical actions and mental
ideals coincided very closely. The emotional state of characters developed
very genuinely throughout their endeavors; this realism forced me to look
at the purpose of war more closely and examine its results on the militia.

Foremost, I have gained a multitude of new perceptions, some of which make
a great deal of sense, from the vividly portrayed physical results of war
and the depth in which the dynamic emotions of the soldiers, particularly
Paul, were presented. This book has simply given me new views of war. It
was an incredible work to read.


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