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All Quiet on the Western Front

From Academic Kids

All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I, about the horrors of that war and also the deep detachment from German civilian life felt by many men returning from the front. The book was first published in German as Im Westen nichts Neues in January 1929. It sold a million copies within a year in Germany and a further million abroad. In 1930 the book was turned into an Oscar-winning movie of the same name, directed by Lewis Milestone. Although it is unrelated to the novel, "all quiet on the Western Front" has become a popular slang for the lack of action, a reference to the Phony War in World War II's Western Front (WWII).

Contents

Plot

The story follows the experiences of Paul Bumer: a soldier who joined the German army shortly after the start of the war. He arrives on the western front with his friends (Tjaden, Mller, and a number of other characters) and meets Stanislaus Katczinsky. Kat soon becomes Paul's mentor and teaches him about the realities of war. Paul and Kat swiftly became almost brothers, bonded by the hardships of the war.

Paul and his friends have to endure day after day of non-stop bombardment. Eventually it all becomes clear to him: war is entirely pointless. All his friends say that they are fighting the war for a few persons whom they have never met and most likely never will. They are the only people that can gain anything from this war, not Paul and his friends.

The book focuses not on heroic stories of bravery as do so many other war stories, but rather gives a realistic view of the hell the soldiers found themselves in. The monotony, the constant artillery fire, the struggle to find food, and the overarching role of chance in the lives and deaths of the soldiers, all are described in detail. Remarque often refers to the living soldiers as old and dead, emotionally depleted and hardened. "We are not youth any longer. We don't want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing from ourselves, from our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces."

Occasionally Paul receives leave from the army, and returns home temporarily. He finds it difficult to understand people at home anymore. While all the soldiers at the front wish for nothing more than peace, knowing that they are losing the war, people back home talk about marching on Paris. He is also indifferent to the significance of any of the battles. Battles have no names. Rather, one after another they offer a chance for him to be killed. Battle seems to be waged only to gain pitifully small pieces of land.

Themes

There are many central themes in the book. The first is that war is total nonsense. After all, none of the characters have ever seen a Frenchman before the war, much less have reason to kill them. Some of the soldiers ponder how the war was started, what is it for, and who it benefits. Nobody has any answers.

The horror of war

A main theme in All Quiet on the Western Front is the brutality of war. The archetypical war novel romanticizes war and exhults the heroes of the story. This book shows a vivid, realistic, and horrible portrait of war. World War I saw the development of many new horrible innovations such as poison gas, machine guns, and tanks; all of which made killing easier and even more impersonal. The novel shows these weapons being used for butchery on a grand scale; for instance, battles lasting for four months. Another main theme seen throught All Quiet on the Western Front is the way the soldiers metaphorically change from humans into animals.

Paul describes the horrors of war throughout the book. The trenches and fortifications are shelled continuously, poison gas blankets the battlefield, snipers shoot at anyone with their head above ground. Finally, the French troops come and the German lines disintegrate. Vivid descriptions are presented throughout the book. Nothing short of being there could show the sheer numbers of dead and wounded every day in the war. The day Paul eventually dies was otherwise militarily uneventful, the army report just noting "All quiet on the western front".

Effect on soldiers

War is ultimately fought by human soldiers, and this book is set where they fight. One of the other main themes in this book is how war completely ruins soldiers. Physically, they are in constant danger from being shot and bombed. The never-ending attacks and counter-attacks destroy their nerves. They are in constant fear. And their living conditions are atrocious; they live in mud/earth dug-outs infested with rats, along side rotting corpses. No food or water for days on end. They are forced to deal with the emotional shock of watching the violent deaths of their friends. If the war has not killed the soldiers then the lethal combination of physical and mental anguish have figuratively killed the soldiers.

Nature

The landscape on the front is barren, but when Paul goes on leave, he sees nature. Nature is used to represent escape, it is beautiful and pure. When traveling by train, Paul describes the beautiful mountains and plains of Germany. He wonders why this nature is being destroyed on the front, he wants to preserve this beauty not destroy it. Also, when he sees the French countryside, he sees it is not different from the German countryside, why should he destroy this either? When wanting to change the tone of the book to a nice tone, the author uses nature as a tool to achieve that.

Film

The film version, adapted by Maxwell Anderson, George Abbott, Del Andrews, C. Gardner Sullivan, Walter Anthony (uncredited) and Lewis Milestone (uncredited), won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1930 for its producer Carl Laemmle Jr., and an Academy Award for Directing for Lewis Milestone. The movie starred Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayres, John Wray, Arnold Lucy and Ben Alexander.

It also received two further nominations:

The film has also been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Sequel

The Road Back, another book written by Erich Maria Remarque, is about a different group of soldiers trying to cope with postwar Germany: dealing with the defeated German society after the war, trying to go to school, and trying to live a normal life.

The book and film were both banned during Nazi rule.

External links

fr: l'Ouest, rien de nouveau he:במערב אין כל חדש no:Intet nytt fra vestfronten

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