All Quiet on the Western Front: A Personal Reflection

During times when war was rather romanticized than feared, Erich Maria Remarque wrote a book based on his experiences fighting during WWI. Instead of glorifying war or victimizing the Germans in this book, he instead humanized them so they could be well understood by readers throughout the world. Many scenes focus on conveying emotions that soldiers feel, while in and out of battle. This helped readers empathize with the soldiers, especially the Germans who were viewed as villains in many portrayals of the war. The German soldiers felt pain, sadness, happiness, and fear just like the allied soldiers. The choices of poetic words in many parts throughout the book illustrate Paul’s emotions and thoughts, which relate to the influences of war. This book was the only book I have read about World War I, but it opened my eyes to the effects of historical fiction. 

Paul, the main character of this book, went through many hardships throughout this book. He endured many difficulties, but two that are worth exploring most include trauma from losing friends in battles and the loss of identity. In the beginning, Paul enlisted to fight in the war with a few of his friends, meaning that they were bound to witness each others’ deaths. The first death mentioned was of Joseph Behm, who was Paul’s schoolmate. He was on the battlefield and was shot in the eye. While he did not die immediately, he screamed for help and was later shot by the enemy again. The first death revealed the harsh reality of the war because Kantorek, Paul’s teacher, convinced many soldiers that they were here for the best for the country.

“The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief… While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger.” (pages 12-13) 

The second death was of one of Paul’s close friends, Kemmerich. Paul’s reaction to Kemmerich’s death was very torturous as he watched his best friend die. He was angry that the doctors refused to do anything to save him, he was sad because he would die alone without his family surrounding him, only with his classmates. Paul quickly realized that war made them grow up too fast, and without uniforms, they were still young boys who had dreams and aspirations. Over time, Paul’s reaction to his friends’ deaths became more “normal” as he became more familiar with the losses. However, a death that stood out the most was Katzinsky’s death. His death left Paul broken. Katczinsky’s death was the hardest for Paul to accept because Kat was there for him from the beginning; Kat was a reliable man who everyone looked up to for help and advice. Another reason Kat’s death was most influential was that Paul thought he suffered just a minor injury, but later discovered he died on his back so suddenly. Because of this, Paul couldn’t say goodbye as he could to other friends. Kat’s and​​ Kemerrich’s deaths were similar in a way, as Paul spent much of his time with them and many meaningful memories were made. Losing friends is crushing, especially during wars. 

The lost sense of identity, while not mentioned at the beginning of the book, was constantly discussed towards the middle and the end of the book. Paul first experienced this emotion on his short leave back home. Despite being where he grew up, Paul felt a sense of strangeness while his mother embraced him. 

“ ‘You are home, you are at home.’ But a sense of strangeness will not leave me, I cannot feel at home amongst these things. There is my mother, there is my sister, there my case of butterflies, and there the mahogany piano— but I am not myself there. There is a distance, a veil between us.” (page 160)

In this passage, it can be noted that war was already a part of him, to the point that he can no longer feel at home in the environment that he grew up in; rather the place where he experienced bad memories was where he associates himself with. In the arms of his mother, he felt safe, but he wasn’t the boy she raised anymore. Later in the chapter, Paul’s father stripped his own son’s identity to just a piece of uniform. To his father, his son was no longer someone he raised, but someone who has experienced the war that many glorified. He would rather have his son wear a uniform than civilian clothes; he would rather hear about the fighting in the war than how his son feels about the war itself. On his leave back to the motherland is where Paul first realized the loss of his identity. At the end of the book, Paul let his thoughts run wild, he was tired of facing the war, and he wanted it all to an end:

“All that meets me, all that floods over me are but feelings — greed of life, love of home, yearning for the blood, intoxication of deliverance, but no aims…. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear.” (pages 294-295)

The conflicts that war brought to Paul took away his friends and stripped him of his identity nothing is left for him, not even himself. 

 

 

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