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Irony In All Quiet On The Western Front

1078 words - 5 pages

Irony is not always funny; verbal, dramatic, and situational irony are often used to assert truth or to add depth to an author’s writing. In Erich Maria Remarque’s book, All Quiet on the Western Front, the reader experiences years of life on the front of World War I through the eyes of a young German man, Paul Bäumer, who has enlisted with his classmates at the expectation of their schoolmaster. Remarque uses irony throughout his novel, best displayed in the names of the characters, the various settings, and in the deaths of the characters.
The names of the characters in the book are clear examples of irony. The protagonist’s last name, Bäumer, is similar to the word for ‘tree’ in German: baum. On the last page of the book, Paul’s death s described with a euphemism. “He fell on October 1918…”; “He had fallen forward…” (296). Paul’s last name is a kind of dramatic irony, since the reader could make a connection between his life and that of a tree, while the characters in the book never analyze his name enough to predict his death. Just as his last name suggests, Paul is like a tree. He is sturdy and strong during the war, yet when his time came, he only fell forward, like a tree that had been chopped down in the middle of a quiet forest. In addition, when Haie is beating Himmelstoss, Paul’s description of the final blow is that Haie, “… reached out his right arm… he looked as if he were going to reach down a star.” (49). Remarque used an ironic play on the name of the corporal, since Corporal Himmelstoss has a name that is also a play on German words; “himmel” meaning “heaven” and “stoss” (stoß) meaning kick, push, and other similar words. In effect, the beating that Himmelstoss receives is pushing him down from the “heaven” that was his authority over the men. Remarque’s use of German words as character names extends to Haie as well. In the book, right before the beating he delivers to the corporal, Haie is described in a very animalistic way. Paul states that Haie, “rubs his paws thoughtfully,” (46) and during the actual assault Haie was bent over Himmelstoss, “his mouth open with bloodlust…” (49). Haie’s characterized as an animal in the book, which is very fitting with his name, meaning “shark” in German. Remarque’s use of an animal to describe Haie is ironic in that the reader would be able to predict his instinctual tendencies, whereas those in the book are not aware of the connection between his name and his actions. The connection betwixt the names of the characters and their fates or traits is a clear example of word play and dramatic irony in the book.
The various settings in All Quiet on the Western Front provide further examples of irony in the book. Paul gives an account of the Catholic hospital that he stays in with Albert Kropp, stating, “It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these...

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