We all have one thing in this world that we like to assume cannot be taken away from us: our identity. Every person in the world is different. Our identity has great significance because of this, which also makes the idea of losing it horrifying. That is why I have nothing but praise for the novel All Quiet on the Western Front. A masterfully written book that does a fantastic job of illustrating how war can strip a person of their identity and reduce them to nothing more than the color of their uniform.
The setting of All Quiet on the Western Front takes us to the cold and harsh reality of German soldiers during WWI. It’s difficult to imagine a more bleak and miserable existence than that of a soldier fighting for the losing team on the front lines of a brutal early twentieth-century-style war. Most of the story occurs either in the front lines or in the camps that lie behind them. While experiencing the setting of this novel, it is easy for one to feel something akin to remorse or even fright. The author does not hold back any punches when it comes to demonstrating the brutal realities of war and how traumatizing they were to those who lived it. I greatly admire how the author illustrates these traumatizing events in such a dark setting while still making them so realistic and believable.
I could spend numerous hours discussing all the great points of this novel, but for me something that really stood out is how to it proposes the idea that one may lose much more than their life in a war, they can lose their friends, they can lose their purpose, but most of all, they can lose who they really are. Identity is a huge deal when it comes to interpreting this book. The phrase “who am I” pops up various times in the book, and Paul brings up questions and statements regarding his identity fairly often during the story. In one such time, while he was on leave, he regarded how much he had changed while in the war, and how foreign his own home seems.
“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 to-day. 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.” (7.173)
All Quiet on the Western Front brings forth the true horrors of losing yourself to a flawed cause. It is my belief that the hidden meaning behind this novel was Paul’s struggle to hold on to his old identity, when, truly; he had lost it before the story even began.