Personal response All Quiet on the Western Front

  • Make connections with yourself and the people you know. Do the characters and experiences depicted in the story remind you of yourself, or some aspect of yourself, or of people you know? How? Explain. 

In All Quiet on the Western Front, E. M. Remarque’s characters Paul, Müller, Kropp, and Leer are buddies from school that I found myself relating to. Just like my friends and I, they hang out, talk about what is going on in their lives and complain about their old teachers. In many ways, they are four teenage guys who remind me of myself and my friends. Paul describes some of their time together playing cards, “These are wonderfully care-free hours. … We set the lid of the margarine tub on our knees and so have a good table for a game of skat. … One could sit like this forever.” (p. 9). From this example, I can connect with Paul’s experience, and think of Friday nights hanging out at Will’s house with a group of friends. Similar to Paul and his friends, we can spend hours together happily playing ping pong, pool and talking.

On the other hand, while Paul and his friends might share some similarities with me and my buddies, there also exists glaring differences. Specifically, Paul and his friends are German soldiers on the front lines during WWI. As Paul explains, “All four are nineteen years of age, and all four joined up from the same class as volunteers for the war.” (p. 3). Personally, I cannot imagine living in a country at war and enlisting with my friends. Moreover, I believe Paul’s descriptive account of his face to face encounter with an enemy soldier is so far removed from anything myself or my friends have ever experienced or could relate to. 

This is the first time I have killed with my hands, whom I can see close at hand, whose death is my doing. Kat and Kropp and Müller have experienced it already, when they have hit someone; it happens to many in hand-to-hand fighting especially-  

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 I have studied WWI from history books, passages such as this make me connect with the realities of war in a far more personal and visceral way. It is a brutal realization to know that literally millions of casualties from both the Allies and the Central Powers were just teenagers like my friends and me. From reading Remarque’s novel and developing empathy for Paul and his friends, I now think historical fiction can be very powerful. Not only has All Quiet on the Western Front given me insight into the life of young soldiers experiencing the atrocities of war, it also motivates me to advocate for peace.

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