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War is a terrible occurrence that is often unavoidable between two nations. In these situations moral values are left behind by both parties. When they collide, both sides do whatever it takes to achieve win the war. Countries count on their younger men to fight for them by manipulating them using propaganda and military upbringing, convincing them that they want to fight a war. They have not truly experienced what war is, thus are ignorant in what they are about to undertake. War can scar a young man's life forever, by suffering horrendous trials during his time in war he can suffer a loss of his youth and his humanity altogether.
Paul Baumer is one said youth. In All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque uses Paul as an example to show the reader the monstrosities these young soldiers experience. Paul soon comes to realize that he is stuck in the harsh reality that is World War One Germany. Remarque uses his own style, technique and theme to put the reader into Paul's own shoes during this harsh time.
The story received some positive and negative criticism. In one positive critique, Frank Ernest Hill characterizes Remarque's style as a "sharply etched description of suffering, endurance, grim humor, and climactic event." (Contemporary Literary Criticism, 325) he also believes the writing is a work of art and the reader will be dramatically affected. In contrast, Joseph Wood Krutch thought Remarque's style to be "unimpressionable". He states Remarque's writing was "a sort of naÃ¯veté which is the result of not too little experience, but of too much." (Contemporary Literary Criticism, 326) he believes Remarque's style of writing is too simplistic to properly give the reader insight to the experiences or wartime.
Remarque's use of imagery is one of the most important aspects of the story. The graphic content creates an almost cinematic experience for the reader. In one passage, horses become critically wounded during a battle, Paul describes their cries as, "the moaning of the world, it is the martyred creation, wild with anguish, filled with terror, and groaning" (Remarque, 62). Paul is greatly disturbed by the horses' anguish also supported by this other example, "The belly of one is ripped open, the guts trail out. He becomes tangled in them and falls, then he stands up again." (63) These examples of imagery create an almost surreal account of what it was like to be on the front lines in World War One Germany. Remarque doesn't stop there, he also describes soldiers injuries, "We see men living with their skulls blown open, we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps into the next shell hole; a lance corporal crawls a mile and a half on his hands dragging his smashed knee behind him; another goes to the dressing station and over his clasped hands bulge his intestines; we see men without mouths, without jaws, without faces." (134) This is even more shocking to the reader than the horses' injures because the reader could picture themselves in the injured soldier's position, thus creating an even more frightening realization that this is not fiction.
Remarque uses two techniques in the story, first person point of view, flashbacks. The use of the first person point of view is crucial to the telling of the story because it shows Paul's transformation from an eager young man, wanting to fight for his country to a emotionless husk that is mentally separated from the rest of the world by showing his experiences in the trenches. The other technique, flashbacks tell how Paul's life was before the war; how he attended school and church, playing with his childhood friends and then realizing that part of his life is gone forever as soon as he stepped foot on the battleground.
The running theme of this novel is the loss of humanity and youth. The loss of humanity is best described in the quote "We have become wild beasts. We do not fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation. It is not against men that we fling our bombs, what do we know of men in this moment when Death is hunting us downâ€¦..we can destroy and kill, to save ourselves and to be revenged." (113) here the soldiers are described as animals killing to avoid being killed without remorse. This idea is bolstered by Paul stating that "Through the years our business has been killing, our knowledge of life is limited to death." (264) essentially supporting that the soldiers adapted and evolved to be killers, fully aware of death.
The loss of youth theme in the novel is associated with the lack of interaction between woman and the soldiers. In war the soldiers are deprived of any social communication with woman, and as such they lose the need or feeling of what it's like to have a companion. Paul states, "She is a wonder to us. We have quite forgotten that there are such things, and even now we can hardly believe our eyes. We have seen nothing like it for years, nothing like it for happiness, beauty and joy." (141) this reaffirms the idea that Paul and his fellow soldiers have lost the compulsion of finding or loving a woman. Towards the end of the novel, Paul goes home to find a world where he is no longer accustomed to. When he sees his family he explains "There is a distance, a veil between us." (160) he is unable to emotionally communicate with his family and can no longer relate to them because they have no gone through what he has in the war. Brian Murdoch believes this description on isolation attempts to replicate the thoughts and psyche of a soldier during the First World War within the context of that time.
Remarque portrays a realistic account of World War One, one of which a veteran of the war itself could do. Remarque's use of technique, style and theme adequately portrays the ghastly and abominable events of war and its effects on the young men that fight in them Remarque's use of first person and flashback techniques allow the reader to relate with Paul as if they were fighting alongside him. His use of imagery creates an almost cinematic feel to his readings, allowing the reader to experience what he has first-hand. Finally the theme of a loss of humanity and innocence allow the reader to essentially feel the results of war that is bestowed upon Paul.