All Quiet on the Western Front
Erich Maria Remarque's literary breakthrough, All Quiet on the Western Front, describes two stories. It meticulously chronicles the thoughts of a soldier in World War I while simultaneously detailing the horrors of all wars; each tale is not only a separate experience for the soldier, but is also a new representation of the fighting. The war is seen through the eyes of Paul Baumer whose mindset is far better developed in comparison to his comrades'. His true purpose in the novel is not to serve as a representation of the common soldier, but to take on a godly and omniscient role so that he may serve as the connection between WWI and all past and future melees of the kind. Baumer becomes the representation of all men, and, through him, the reader comes to see the true essence of such a human struggle.
Though the novel introduces the reader to a seasoned soldier in the German army, its tale of war begins even before enlistment. The soldier's "bellies are full with beef and haricot beans;" their hearts are full of happiness. "The cook," or one's parents, "spoons…out a great dollop," or provides for their needs (1). Before enlistment, the men's futures were good and certain; "each man had a mess tin full for the evening" (1). Though sheltered, the men were "satisfied and at peace"(1). Shortly after these introductory passages, Baumer expresses his disdain for this prior life, suggesting that the soldiers' present paradigms are the only views that are reliable; "our generation is more to be trusted than [the older generation]" (12). However, though these men have been alerted to the ways of the world, these revelations visibly corrupt them for within their soul ("under their nails") lies the sin of taking lives ("is the dirt of the trenches") that shows through as guilt on their faces (15). This remorse, "blue-black like poison", kills them slowly until nothing is left but, "dead ashen hollows" (15). This first chapter describes a war from beginning to end, dealing with the events that transform the men from "Iron Youth" to "old folk" in a matter of two years (18).
Chapter 2 sums up the war in a different fashion, showing the contrast between the uselessness of past knowledge and the "raw and emotional skills necessary" in the trenches (20). The duties imposed on the camp by Corporal Himmelstoss symbolize the hours of work and duties done before enlistment that mean nothing during the war. Being "put through every conceivable refinement of parade ground soldiering" shows how schoolbook tasks were diligently performed only for fear of how society would perceive the boys if they were to do otherwise (26). Himmelstoss himself is the embodiment of...