All Quiet on the Western Front
By Erich Maria Remarque
The book is founded on World War 1. The author is a German (June 22, 1898– September 25, 1970), who was conscripted into the army at the age of 18. In 1933 when Nazis came to power his books were burnt, claiming it was a betrayal of the German front-line soldier.
The first sentence of the book aptly describes it.
‘The book is intended neither as an accusation nor as a confession, but simply as an attempt to give an account of a generation that was destroyed by the war – even those of it who survived the shelling.’
The story revolves around a few young men, around nineteen years of age who were all classmates.
The protagonist is also, the narrator. Paul Baumer.
Each of them is recruited into the army directly from school.
Each of them with hopes and dreams of their own.
Like Muller, who dreams about taking school leaving diploma later under special regulations. ‘ …he even swots up physics formulae when their is a barrage going on’
The book describes how a person gets transformed, adapting to his surroundings. Things once he thought as disgusting turn out to be a pleasure later.
‘I can still remember how embarrassed we were ..to use communal latrines..there are no doors so that 20 men had to sit side by side as if they were on train.’
Paul goes on to say that the as the days go on the whole business in the open air is a real pleasure. And now he can’t understand why people ‘…skirt around these things nervously –after all its just as natural as eating or drinking’
Paul talks about his school . He talks about a particular form-master at school. ‘..they were supposed to be the ones who would help us eighteen year olds to make the transition. Who would guide us into adult life, of civilized behavior and progress….but the first dead man we saw shattered this conviction. Our first experience of heavy artillery fire showed us our mistake, and the view of life that their teaching had given us fell to pieces under that bombardment.”
Paul goes on to describe their state ‘…we are like children who have been abandoned and we are as experienced as old men, we are coarse, unhappy and superficial-I think that we are lost.”
Paul a year ago was quite a different person .He had interests in literature. He used to write poems. When he is back home for a short interval , he wishes ‘…I want to get that quiet rapture back ,feel again, just as before, that fierce and unnamed passion I used to feel when I used to feel when I looked at my books.’
He just stands looking at his shelf with books
Words words words they can’t reach me
I leave the room quietly.’
Paul talks about the first person he kills on the front …
‘I just stab wildly…when I come to myself again, my hand is sticky and wet. He is dying ..but not dead’.
Paul gets water for the person. He has to spent hours with the dying man hiding inside the shell hole. The time tortures him.
‘…the dying man is the master of these hours, he has an indivisible dagger to stab me with: the dagger of time and my own thoughts’.
Paul starts to think about the dead man’s wife. In his desperation he talks to the dead man. He asks for his forgiveness. He can’t see why the dead man is an ‘enemy’.
‘Under their uniform they are all the same, scared’
He says,” take twenty more years from my life camarade and get up again – take more, because I don’t know what I am going to do with years I have got”
The sheer hopelessness and gloom is evident in certain lines.
‘I am young ,I am 20 years of age but I know nothing of life except despair ,death, fear…for years our occupation has been killing –that was the first experience we had. Our knowledge of life is limited to death.’
Books have strange effect on one’s mind. Some books stay with you only till you finish reading the last page. Some books just stay on. I guess this book has such an effect on you, maybe because its still quite relevant today.
The concept of victory in a battle is alien to me. If a side loses even a single human life, I believe its reason enough to say it has lost the war. Just think about that one person. He lost the precious life in which he would have wanted to do a thousand things. He sacrificed his life for the sake of winning a war. The word sacrifice is quite a big word. Its not a single word. It is the cumulative of many words. Sacrifice of hopes, of dreams, of goals, of laughter, of sorrow, of love, of hate, of family, of society. Are not all these, that make life worthy of living?