All Quiet on the Western Front, written by Erich Maria Remarque, is a deeply revered book. Its shocking and grotesque portrayal of war opened the eyes of many throughout the world, including mine. Reading the book I was forced into a world of violence and immorality. This was the world of Paul Bäumer, a naïve teenage boy, who under the impression of glory and heroism, joined the German military with his other teenage school buddies. This decision would later prove to be a large mistake, costing Paul his innocence and replacing it with dejection.
Throughout the novel, the most common reoccurrence is death. It loomed over the soldiers, taunting them, but quickly became a comfort, bringing them away when they had nothing else left to suffer through. There were many instances where death was either a solace, or a terrifying thing. The contrast between these two to me is quite comical, in some lighter cases.
“I merely crawl still farther under the coffin, it shall protect me, though Death himself lies in it.” (p. 67)
While during that moment, Paul’s use of the coffin is due to him being bombarded by shells, I believe that the use of the cemetery in this chapter is quite calculated. Many think that once you are dead, you have reached some form of peace. While these people lie in death, the people above are being littered with bombs, gunshots, and gas. After the bombardment, numerous graves were upturned, decomposing corpses strewn about the battlefield. The soldiers merely leave their own dead with them, scattering a bit of soil above. To the soldiers, death was more common than a good meal, or a comfortable bed. They became used to it and used to running from it.
Another common occurrence throughout the book that I found interesting was the use of adrenaline. There were many instances where Paul and Kat would have died much sooner if it weren’t for their dissociation during battle. Once they hear the sound of a shell or take a step into No Man’s Land, their thoughts take flight, and their eyes are only set on survival, acting purely on instincts. Reading the novel, it managed to convince me that there is truly no other way to go about it.
“But every gasp lays my heart bare. This dying man has time with him, he has an invisible dagger with which he stabs me: Time and my thoughts.” (p. 221)
While Paul made the decision to kill someone out of instinct, he himself received the larger punishment of having to stay by him, and ruminate on his actions, with nothing but his own thoughts, something he usually abandons.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I hope to read more pieces like it. War in literature is something that I have tried to enjoy, but I was never able to connect to. I seemed to dislike the tired story of so-called glory. I find it interesting to read books that contain a male narrator that doesn’t shy from his emotions, or go to large lengths to glorify something as destructive and horrific as war.