The novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” is deservedly considered to be one of Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpieces. The main theme of the book was characterized by the author himself at the beginning of the story: “This book is to be neither accusation nor a confession, and at last of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure for those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war” (Remarque 5). The main purpose of the writer was to depict the cruel injustices of the war. Remarque in the novel intends to describe the generation which is deprived of dreams and plans; which has no future and no present – the evidences of the war are the only things it owns.
The protagonist of the novel is a nineteen years old German soldier, who, together with his school friends, joins the army at his will. The young boys make such a decision under the influence of their teacher Kantorek, who persuades them by delivering eloquent patriotic speeches in favor of the German army. However, that was already the first battle that has disillusioned the romantic view about war, the brutality of which has horrified young soldiers.
As the story develops the reader gets acquainted with the main character. During his participation in the war Paul underwent considerable changes. He used to write poems. However after his joining the Western front he gave up the habit. He has become a hopeless and desperate person. His family was substituted by soldiers and severe commander Himmelstoss who has never missed the opportunity to scoff his subordinates. By introducing such a character into the story, Remarque ruminates on the personal changes which the power of authority brings about. The following episode proves the said above words. When it is revealed that soldiers Tjaden and Kindervater are bedwetters, Himmelstoss forces them to sleep in one bed, one above the other. Moreover, the commander depletes the boys by perpetual drills and disrespectful behavior. However, soon justice is partially restored and Himmelstoss is sent to the front himself as a punishment for torturing his recruits. Such experience has influenced the commander and he partially reconstructs his attitude to the soldiers and begins to show more respect for them.
In addition to the Himmelstoss’ bullying, the sanitary conditions at the front were dreadful. The lice, which were everywhere and the negligible amount of food markedly worsen the formed situation. All this lead to the continuous physical and mental sufferings of Pete and his friends. They do not see any sense in future life, the war has ruined all their dreams and hopes for happy life. In one of the conversations which took place in the circle of close friends, they had agreed in the opinion that even those middle-aged soldiers who joined the front have been happier that they were. The impressions, recollections of happy warless life, their families and children make the lives of the senior soldiers more valuable and worthy. Such a type of the author’s meditations, expressed from the points of view of the characters, happens quite often in the novel. Meditations serve as a smooth transition from the cruel violent battlefield to sad inner thoughts of the heroes. Moreover, the author expresses the concern of the war’s uselessness – for the whole nations it is only the source of murders and continuous sufferings. However, it may be rather beneficial for the rulers, who want to grab the slice of history in such a way. The episode when Paul visits the prison for the captured Russian soldiers proves the idea. Paul cannot understand why he has to detest people whom he fancied so much. Russians are like brothers to each other and he respects this friendship and mutual respect. In order to help the “enemy”, Paul shares his cigarettes and cakes which his mother has cooked. These acts emphasize the uselessness of the war and its aim – to establish hostility between people who are more likely to be friends than enemies.
The story finishes with the words “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Remarque 306), which are used to describe the war situation happening on the day of the protagonist’s life. Because of the war Paul’s life was everything but quite and the words, which also form the title of the novel, emphasize the harsh reality the main character dealt with. The tragic irony is that Paul dies on the day when eventually things become quiet.
Remarque’s exceptional talent is in his ability to depict reality which he has faced himself, transforming it into the reality of those who are reading the story. When a reader gets acquainted with the books written by Remarque, he/she entirely focuses on the main topics, ideas, themes which the author intended to illustrate in his novels. Such a union of the reader and the writer is reached by clear and precise descriptions, impressive conversations and reasonable conclusions. It is not the writer himself who is present on the pages; his recollections and trials are the key factors in composing a convincing story. The author succeeds in structuring the realistic picture of the times he is writing about. That is why the books written by Remarque are always honest and sincere; and it is difficult, if not impossible, to be opposed to his views or doubt his words.
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|William Blake’s “On Another’s Sorrow”||Jean Toomer|