One of the key themes in All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque that I found interesting was the way he showed the change of Paul Bäumer’s mental state throughout the book. At the beginning of the novel, the author makes the atmosphere of the camp seem more positive by showing the friendship and banter between the soldiers. For example, when Paul talks about first enlisting in the army he says,
“We were still crammed full of vague ideas which gave to life, and to the war also, an ideal and almost romantic character.” P. 21.
This shows the ignorance a lot of the young soldiers had about the idea of war and what it meant. As the story goes on the attitude the soldiers have towards the war starts to shift as they begin to comprehend the impact the war has on them.
In the middle of the book Paul goes on leave and gets to go back home to visit. During this time, he has lots of time to reflect on just how much the war has changed him.
“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had only been in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here anymore, it is a foreign world.” P. 168
Going back home, Paul realizes that the life he lived before the war, he can never go back to. He feels like he is looking at his life through the eyes of an outsider and starts to reflect on how the war has stripped him of his childhood and previous life. He has become accustomed to the harsh and traumatic environment of the trenches that going back to “normal life” feels like it is wrong. I was surprised by the disconnection he felt to his childhood home and found it sad how he felt like he didn’t belong.
Near the end of the book, you start to see just how badly the war has impacted Paul. For example, the last thing that is written about Paul before his death is
“I am very quiet. Let the months and years come, they can take nothing from me, they can take nothing more. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them with out fear. The life that has borne me through these years is still in my hands and my eyes. Whether I have subdued it, I know not. But so long as it is there it will seek its own way out, heedless of the will that is within me.” P. 295
I felt like this quote really made me understand the mental suffering Paul was going through at this time and made me understand the progression of the impact of the war on his mental health throughout the whole book.
His life ends with half a blank page and a paragraph about how he was killed quickly. At first, I didn’t like the ending to his life because I felt like it didn’t do Paul’s character justice but then it made me realize that all the deaths during the war were like that. They were not big and dramatic or heroic, they were quick and fast. His death was the end of his mental suffering.