All Quiet on the Western Front: The Youth at War
Lost: unable to find one’s way; gone, no longer in existence; confused; destroyed; lacking morals, or spiritual hope; forlorn.(Encarta Dictionary) The word lost takes on a whole new, three-dimensional meaning when used to describe a generation of young soldiers in Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, All Quiet on the Western Front. This fictional account of the First World War traces its effects on the protagonist, Paul Baumer, and his German comrades. As written in the preface, the novel is an attempt “to tell of a generation of men, who even though they may have escaped the shells, were destroyed by the war”. The author of All Quiet on the Western Front utilizes the brutality of war to demonstrate how young enlisters, as they become alienated from their past and future, learn of war’s terrible effects and consequences.
All Quiet on the Western Front details the time spent by a group of young German soldiers on the front lines of the Great War. The protagonist, Paul Baumer, along with his schoolmates, Muller Leer and Albert Kropp, enlist in the army at the ripe age of eighteen. Their fellow soldiers: Tjaden, Haier Westhus, Detering, and Katczinsky (Kat), whom they quickly form a bond of comradeship with, experience the same hopelessness as Paul and his schoolmates. Remarque introduces Paul and the other characters as cynical soldiers lacking the ability to reconnect with humanity because of the harshness of combat. Due to their current emotional state, the young soldiers are alienated from memories of their past. Upon his return home on leave, Paul discovers that he is not only disconnected from the world he left behind, but also incapable of regenerating a desire to live life. As a result, the joy of being young is stolen from these soldiers, and their vitality, which they never quite took ownership of, diminishes as well. Paul comes to the realization that his generation soldiers know only of death and in that cannot recover their lost lives. In the ironic ending of the novel, Paul falls to a peaceful death while the war continues in all of its horror, symbolizing that the war spares no young soul from their own inevitable death.
Gruesome and savage combat plagued the battle grounds in which Paul and his fellow comrades fought. “Instead of glorifying the warrior hero and war itself, Remarque catalogs the ghastly horrors and sheer absurdity of World War I.” (Beetz 104) Dramatic scenes such as when a “lance-corporal has his head torn off,” beside Paul and then, “…runs a few steps more while the blood spouts from his neck like a fountain,” are the common images of bloodshed the men become accustomed to.( Remarque 115) During the first bombardment, the bodies of dead soldiers are used as protection from enemy bombs. Death is expected with everyday that passes, either by injury or by a horrifying fatality on the front lines during an attack. The men know it is only a matter of time before they...