Remarque, Erich Maria. All quiet on the western front.
United States: Ballentine books, 1982.
An insider’s perspective on the brutality of World War 1.
When Erich Maria Remarque wrote All Quiet On The Western Front, he created a story unlike any that had been seen before. Novels based on warfare tend to be romanticized; this is partly due to the fact that history tends to be written by the victors. While writing All Quiet On The Western Front, Remarque was able to tell the story of World War 1 from the unique perspective of someone that was not in a command tent, but was in the trenches fighting for his life. Another aspect of the novel that is unusual is the fact that the author was not a soldier that fought for the Allies (winning side), but instead he was a German soldier. From the beginning Remarque is able to demonstrate the brutality of World War 1 by emphasizing the price paid by the men who fought on the front lines each and every day. The cost in men’s lives is clear when the protagonist of the story, Paul Bäumer, returns from the front along with the rest of his unit and they proceed to the cook-house for their meal. They soon discover that the chef has cooked for the 150 men that were in the unit on the previous day prior to a battle. The cook noting that there were only 80 men present, asked where the rest of the men were, he was told that “They won’t be fed by you to-day. They’re either in the dressing-station or pushing up daisies.” 1
Throughout the novel Remarque is able to show that after spending time fighting in the trenches that it is the little things that matter the most. This is first illustrated by Kemmerich’s boots. Franz Kemmerich is a friend and a member of the same unit as Paul Bäumer who has been severely wounded in battle. After seeing that Kemmerich has had one of his legs amputated and is likely to die, Fredrich Műller, upon seeing Kemmerich’s boots wants to take them, “Műller is delighted at the sight of them. He matches their soles against his own clumsy boots and says: ‘will you be taking them with you then, Franz?’” 2 The boots which Kemmerich is likely to have acquired from the body of a dead airman, are described as being made from fine, soft, yellow leather, and are passed from man to man as each owner is killed.
The advance of weaponry during World War 1 is highlighted by Remarque during his many vivid descriptions of battle scenes as well as the time spent by the soldiers on the front between battles. While spending their time between the main battles the characters perform tasks such as placing barbed wire, spikes and repairing the trenches. At other times they try to sleep, eat, and entertain themselves by playing cards, all of these events are occurring while bombardments, either of their positions, or of other positions around them, occur randomly. The fact that death could come for anyone at any time is underscored by Remarque throughout the novel. One scene in particular comes to mind in which Bäumer and his friends are finishing their time on the front and getting ready to return to the lorries, and thus the rear, after a bombardment when another barrage begins. Soon after taking cover Bäumer learns that…