The novel All Quiet on the Western Front, written by Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970) in Switzerland, tells the story of 6 German soldiers who volunteered to fight in the first World War, and it describes their demise intellectually, spiritually, and physically. All Quiet on the Western Front displays all of the anguish one would expect in any war novel, but it also exposes the horrors of a new kind of war. Machine guns had never been used before World War I. The narrator provides the reader with a close account of the many atrocities of the war.
Even those who would be lucky enough to physically survive would still be victims. The novel is told from the perspective of a particularly observant young soldier, Paul Baumer, who exposes details of life on the Western Front. Paul and his fellow classmates are enlisted in the German army of World War I. These young men turn out as passionate soldiers fighting for their country, but their little world of duty, culture, and progress would be blown to pieces after the first bombardment they endure in the trenches.
Through the many years of vivid horror, Paul holds onto a particular vow: to fight against the disgust that senselessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another in the revolting reality known as war. Paul Baumer is the star of this novel, he is the protagonist and, until about the last paragraph, the narrator. Paul is not a famous war hero, or a high- ranking military officer, he’s not even a famous writer. He is nothing more than your average Joe that lives with his family in a cute little German Village. He likes to drink beer and think about girls, and most of all he loves to write and tell stories.
He went to school and is an avid reader, but he is too young to have had any major life-changing experiences before enlisting in the war. He is just a typical teenage boy – excited about his future, but still too naive to understand certain things in life. That is, until the war changes his entire outlook on life and makes him an expert in death. In many ways, Paul is ordinary, and that is why it is so easy for the reader to relate to him, to see yourself in Paul, and because of that, the war he endures seems all the more horrible to whoever reads it.
One man that struck me as the Antagonist was Corporal Himmelstoss. His character is portrayed as an insecure power hungry individual. He uses his own feelings of weakness to try and humiliate the soldiers that he is there to train. His lessons are in no way those of a tough drill sergeant trying to save men’s lives in battle – rather, they are about a man trying to radiate power where in reality he has none. A few of the symbols of importance in All Quiet on the Western Front were Kemmerich’s boots, the river, and nature.
The story behind the boots is not unlike the pants in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, they too get passed around, but sadly, unlike the denim flavor the pants gave, the boots gave death to the wearer. The river on the other hand was nothing more than a natural barrier between brutality and pain and peace and wellbeing. Lastly there is nature, it both comforts and shelters many characters from the endless assault of weapons raining from above. The Earth is pictured to be a living thing that is approached then destroyed by the violence of bombs and bloodshed.
The thing that makes this novel so unlike any other war novel is the way the narrator is able to make the reader feel the full intensity of the many horrors of war through the connection the reader acquires with the narrator throughout the novel. That is why All Quiet on the Western Front is known as one of the greatest war novels ever written. “The wisest were just the poor and simple peoples. They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas people who were better off were beside themselves with joy, though they should have been much better able to judge what the consequences would be. ” (chapter 1, Paragraph 58)