Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is a brilliant novel which uses various writing techniques to create an immersive and authentic narrative of life during the war. I believe that how the characters and the plot were structured are very significant in the creation of this novel. In this piece of text, I will illustrate my opinion and observations surrounding the structure (primarily how the events are described) and characters of this story.
One element I especially noticed about this novel was that every character was portrayed genuinely, each person has a distinctive personality with unique traits that distinguished them from the other characters. On pages 3 and 4, Paul gives a list of his friends with a few defining characteristics that they carry:
“Close behind us were our friends: Tjaden, a skinny locksmith of our own age, the biggest eater of the company. He sits down to eat as thin as a grasshopper and gets up as big as a bug in the family way; Haie Westhus, of the same age, a peat-digger, who can easily hold a ration-loaf in his hand and say: Guess what I’ve got in my fist; then Detering, a peasant, who thinks of nothing but his farm-yard and his wife; and finally Stanislaus Katczinsky, the leader of our group, shrewd, cunning, and hard-bitten, forty years of age, with a face of the soil, blue eyes, bent shoulders, and a remarkable nose for dirty weather, good food, and soft jobs.” (pp. 3-4)
It is easy to notice that each of his friends possess different traits, both including physical aspects as well as those shown within their personalities. This is an excellent example of using contrasting and diverse characters to create a more realistic picture rather than stereotyping soldiers to have identical mundane personalities. Paul was an especially interesting character to analyse, as we received his thoughts and perspectives the most. As soldiers are typically portrayed as heartless and stolid individuals, Paul’s point of view proved him to be a very sympathetic and thoughtful character, as he finds that the loss of his closest friends is extremely difficult to come to terms with. Overall, I appreciated the diverse range of characters in this novel as I believe their qualities played a monumental role in the progression of events.
The development of the characters in context of the occuring war is a very influencing detail in this novel. Paul, for example, goes through major character development as the war goes on. It affects his mental state as seen when he returns home while on leave. Paul’s father asks him questions wondering how life is at the front, causing Paul to realise that the war is incredibly difficult to explain to someone who has not experienced it themselves; “I realise he does not know that a man cannot talk of such things; I would do it willingly, but it is too dangerous for me to put these things into words. I am afraid they might then become gigantic and I be no longer able to master them.” (p. 165). The war had permanently changed Paul, and this time back at home assisted him in discovering that unfortunate fact. The way that Remarque supplies context throughout the novel is extremely beneficial to give us a more in depth understanding of what life was like outside of the violent combat.
This book featured lots of smaller details and scenarios outside of the brutal front line traumas. Abundances of description are given to dull occurrences, including eating meals, going on leave and simply lounging while building relationships with one another. I noticed that Remarque focuses especially on the plain, perhaps more repetitive or dull, aspects of war life; this effect makes the experience of reading this novel more immersive, as we can relate to some of these activities and emotions, but would never associate them to war. For example, at the beginning of Chapter One, one of the first mentioned events is their meal consisting of double rations. While this may seem irrelevant or minor to the story from a reader’s perspective, in the eyes of the soldiers in the queue, this was an astounding opportunity for them to receive a double serving of their meal. These small events are emphasized in this novel which I found to be incredibly valuable as it gave me a more authentic and genuine perspective. By the end of the book, I felt that I had earned a better understanding of what life was like during war outside of the treacherous combat they suffered.
The beginning of the book felt rather repetitive and uneventful, but as I continued to read, I felt more drawn and intrigued to the storyline. It was an amazingly written and constructed novel; the characters, plot, imagery and relationship with our daily lives all created a beautiful and engaging piece of text. I walked away from this book with far more sympathy and understanding for those who fought in the war with a full (and now enlightened) realisation that their lives consisted of far more than just combat.
Nyah Sharratt – 10/04