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Critical Essay - All Quiet on the Western Front

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Introduction

All Quiet On The Western Front "All Quiet On The Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque, first published in 1929, is a novel about the experiences of a German soldier during World War One. In the novel, the author uses the themes of horror, sacrifice and waste of life to highlight the futility of war. In my essay I intend to show how the author makes these themes vivid to the reader. One way the author highlights the futility of war is through the use of key incidents. The story opens with the protagonist, Paul Baumer and the rest of his army company, five miles from the front, having been at the front the previous day. They all received double rations of everything - cigars, cigarettes and food - and are quietly celebrating this. I find it ironic that the only reason that they have these extra rations is due to an army mistake as the army had provided for a company of one hundred and fifty men but only eighty had returned from the front alive. The first example of "waste of life" is the death of Paul's school friend Kemmerich. He had been shot in the leg, which had to be amputated as a result. While under anaesthetic his watch was stolen and while visiting, Paul and his friends Kropp and Muller are told by medics that they do not expect Kemmerich to last much longer. ...read more.

Middle

The men see this as an abuse of Kantorek's power of influence over them. Himmelstoss, their training corporal, is shown to be slightly sadistic. He uses an immensely cruel method to cure Tjaden and another man of their bed-wetting and makes the men do repetitive and tedious exercises in muddy fields. The turning point in Paul's attitude towards Himmelstoss happens when Paul and Albert Kropp have been ordered to empty a latrine and spill it on Himmelstoss. After this Paul still follows his orders but will always try to twist the wording to infuriate Himmelstoss as much as possible. Later on, they meet Himmelstoss again at the front during an offensive where Paul finds him cowering in a shell hole pretending to be wounded, only to see him overcome with some kind of blind courage and join the next wave of troops charging forwards. After the battle Himmelstoss is appointed company cook and the men see a change in him. He becomes more humble, timid and appears to want to be friendly with the other men. This is shows how battle changes people. Before Himmelstoss was intent on using his power whenever possible but after he sees what the other men have to go through, he seems to regret it and wants to be their comrade. The offensive in which Paul finds Himmelstoss also highlights the theme of waste of life. ...read more.

Conclusion

In expressing his regret he says; "But you were only an idea to me...It was that abstraction that I stabbed. But now I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and your fellowship. Forgive me Comrade." This again demonstrates how Paul feels about the Russians. They are not enemies but each fight the idea of the other, the German versus the Russian or the German versus the Frenchman. By the last few chapters of the book all of Paul's comrades and old friends are being killed. Muller is killed and Paul inherits the boots that Muller had, in turn received from Kemmerich, and Katczinsky was hit by shrapnel and died of his wounds. By the last chapter only Paul is left. His death is described in a brief paragraph where the tense and viewpoint change from the present tense and through Paul's eyes to past tense and in third person. This change of tense and viewpoint shows the impersonal way in which soldiers are seen when they die. The army report for the day on which Paul died simply read "All quiet on the western front." This shows that even though this man who the reader has come to know has died, in the whole war his death means nothing. In conclusion, "All Quiet On The Western Front" effectively highlights many themes, such as horror of war, sacrifice and waste of life to show the ultimate futility of war. ...read more.

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