Parents also carry the heavy burden of the lost generation's accusation. Paul says that German parents are always ready with the word "coward" for a young person who will not join up. He feels that parents should have been mediators and guides for Paul's friends, but they let them down. No longer can they trust their parents' generation. He speaks of the wise but poor people in relation to their parents: "The wisest were just the poor and simple people.
They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas those who were better off, and should have been able to see more clearly what the consequences would be, were beside themselves with joy. Teachers are also to blame. Going home, Paul hears the head-master spew empty patriotic rhetoric and argue that he knows better than Paul what is happening in the war.
Paul blames his old schoolteacher Kantorek for Joseph Behm's death, because Kantorek goaded the hapless Behm to join up. And Paul knows there are Kantoreks all over Germany lecturing their students to patriotic fervor. Even Leer, who was so good at mathematics in school, dies of a terrible wound and Paul wonders what good his school-learned mathematics will do him now. Paul's entire generation has a terrible feeling of betrayal when they consider military protocol, their parents, and their school teachers.
Old men start the war and young men die. Whether it be this war or any war since, the agony of the fighters is echoed in Paul's words in Chapter 10, as he gazes around the hospital:. And this is only one hospital, one single station; there are hundreds of thousands in Germany, hundreds of thousands in France, hundreds of thousands in Russia.
How senseless is everything that can ever be written, or done, or thought, when such things are possible.
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It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture-chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is. Paul and his friends become so inured to death and horror all around them that the inhumanity and atrocities of war become part of everyday life. Here is where Remarque is at his greatest: in his description of the true horror and paralyzing fear at the front. He describes the atrocities, the terrible consequences of weapons of mass destruction, and how soldiers become hardened to death and its onslaught of sensory perceptions during battle.
Atrocities are simply a part of the inhumane business of war. In Chapter 6, Paul and his men come across soldiers whose noses are cut off and eyes poked out with their own saw bayonets. Their mouths and noses are stuffed with sawdust so they suffocate. This constant view of death causes the soldiers to fight back like insensible animals. They use spades to cleave faces in two and jab bayonets into the backs of any enemy who is too slow to get away. Their callousness is contrasted with the reaction of the new recruits who sob, tremble, and give in to front-line madness described over and over again in scenes of the front.
Remarque vividly recounts the horror of constant death as Paul comes upon scenes of destruction. In Chapter 6, he sees a Frenchman who dies under German fire. The man's body collapses, hands suspended, and then his body drops away with only the stumps of arms and hands hanging in the wire and the rest of his body on the ground.
They later come upon a scene with dead bodies whose bellies are swollen like balloons. The gases in them make noises. The assault on the senses is overwhelming. They later pile the dead in a shell hole with "three layers so far. It is a "forest of the dead. By the time Remarque reaches Chapter 11, he has described the soldier's life as one long, endless chain of the following:. Shells, gas clouds, and flotillas of tanks — shattering, corroding, death. Dysentery, influenza, typhus — scalding, choking death.
Trenches, hospitals, the common grave — there are no other possibilities.
All Quiet on the Western Front Themes
Throughout all the horrifying pictures of death and inhumanity, Remarque does scatter a redeeming quality: comradeship. When Paul and his friends waylay Himmelstoss and beat on him, we laugh because he deserves it and they are only giving him his due. As time goes by, however, the pictures of camaraderie relieve the terrible descriptions of front line assaults and death, and they provide a bright light in a place of such terrible darkness. A young recruit becomes gun-shy in his first battle when a rocket fires and explosions begin.
He creeps over to Paul and buries his head in Paul's chest and arms, and Paul kindly, gently, tells him that he will get used to it Chapter 4. Perhaps the two most amazing scenes of humanity and caring can be found in the story of the goose roasting and the battle where his comrades' voices cause Paul to regain his nerve.
In Chapter 5, Paul and Kat have captured a goose and are roasting it late at night. Paul says, "We don't talk much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have. We are two men, two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death. Over and over again, in scenes of battle and scenes of rest, we see the comradeship of this tiny group of men. Even though Paul counts their losses at various points, he always considers their close relationship and attempts to keep them together to help each other. In Chapter 9, when Paul is alone in the trench, he loses his nerve and his direction and is afraid he will die.
Instead, he hears the voices of his friends: "I belong to them and they to me; we all share the same fear and the same life; we are nearer than lovers, in a simpler, a harder way; I could bury my face in them in these voices, these words that have saved me and will stand by me. Through thick and thin, battle and rest, horror and hopelessness, these men hold each other up.
Finally, Paul has only Kat and he loses even this friend and father-figure in Chapter Kat's death is so overwhelming and so final that we do not hear Paul's reaction; we only see him break down in the face of it. There is such final irony in the medic's question about whether they are related. This man, this hero, this father, this life — has been closer to Paul than his own blood relatives and yet Paul must say, "No, we are not related.
The consequences of war are given due consideration--Paul watches friends die, sees dislocated body parts, and tours a hospital of the wounded. Each time Paul counts the thinning ranks of his company, we are reminded that all the fighting is only over a small piece of land--a few hundred yards or less--and that, very soon, the fighting will renew over whatever was gained or lost. To add to the discussion of war's destructive properties see Brutality of war, above , Remarque comments in the epigraph that his novel is primarily for "a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped the shells, were destroyed by the war.
Paul's flat tone throughout the novel emphasizes this numbness: he often passes off a friend's death as if it is a common occurrence--which it is. If the soldier allowed himself to feel emotions, he would die far sooner, or go mad. Accordingly, the soldiers either make light of war--they bet over an airplane dogfight, for instance--or become pragmatic rather than sentimental the fight over Kemmerich's boots, for instance.
Paul vows to repress his feelings until after the war, but even he cannot deny the profound pain he endures. Paul's disconnection emerges again when he visits home. He does not allow himself to bond with his dying mother, and regrets having come home and opened emotional wounds. He has further trouble connecting with the rest of his family and other civilians, none of whom he feels understands his plight, and it is clear his alienation also springs from his disconnection with the past. Like most of the young soldiers who joined the war after they graduated from school, he can barely remember what his life was like before he joined the military, and what he can remember now seems useless to him.
Moreover, he cannot imagine any future after the military; the adjustment to civilian life and an occupation seems impossible. The young soldiers are caught in a nihilistic no-man's-land between the irretrievable past and an unfathomable future. Paul's generation feels betrayed by its nationalistic elders like Kantorek , and by those who glorify war, such as the French brunette who is interested in Paul only as a romanticized soldier on the brink of death. The only thing reducing the soldiers' alienation is their intimate bond with each other see Unity among soldiers.
Nationalism is the unswerving dedication to one's homeland, and it swept Europe in the years leading up to WWI.
Kantorek, the boys' former schoolteacher, epitomizes nationalism; Paul describes how Kantorek rallied his pupils with patriotic speeches and bullied them into volunteering for the war, ridiculing them for cowardice if they stayed at home. However, Kantorek and his generation are not the ones dying in the war.
It is the "'Iron Youth,'" as he calls them, who give up their lives for the political power games of a few global leaders.
All Quiet On The Western Front themes
Paul is bitter about the nationalism that has forced him and countless others to enter the war, but he manages to use it for humane purposes. He unites with the Russian prisoners through a universal language, music, knowing that arbitrary political powers have made them enemies. He also empathizes deeply with the Frenchman he kills, seeing past the man's nationality and into his life he discovers his name, occupation, and family situation.
In fact, Paul kills the Frenchman in the no-man's-land between enemy trenches, the only remaining place in Europe not owned by a particular country although, of course, bitter fights take place over its ownership. The first word of the novel is "We," and Paul's typically first-person singular narration "I" frequently slips into the first-person plural voice.
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The one good thing that has emerged from the war, he often contends, is the comradeship between the soldiers. Disciplinarian training intent on breaking down the soldiers' individuality, and the horrors of war, bond the men in ways civilians cannot comprehend. They do everything together, from eating to using the latrines; even dead bodies in battle are used as cover for the living. Sexuality plays an important role in their all-male camaraderie; they go on amorous adventures for women the Frenchwomen episode or help others have sex as when they arrange the conjugal visit for Lewandowski in the hospital.
Their intimacy is also tinged with homoeroticism Paul's fondness for Kat as they cook a goose together goes beyond mere friendship.
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