The Courage and Strength in All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
As I enter my last week as a twenty-year-old, I find myself nostalgically looking back on the past two decades while wondering what life has in store for me over the next two. Where will I be in twenty years? What will I have accomplished? Where will I be living? Will I be married? Have chil… wait a minute, no, that one will have to wait a few more years. These questions have all passed through my mind at one point or another over the last few weeks, but I realize that they are really quite a luxury. Paul, the narrator of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, never had the opportunity to lean back from his desk and daydream about what the next twenty years of his life had in store for him. He was busy dodging bullets and artillery shells, trying to stay alive on Germany’s Western Front during World War I.
Paul and I are united on the grounds of age and nothing more, yet somehow, while following him through his service in the War, I feel connected to him. After finishing the novel, I ruminated on this idea for some time and eventually came to the conclusion that the connection I feel with Paul is a mixture of empathy and envy. I empathize with him because he put down the pen and took up the rifle in service of his country, just as I would do if called upon. I envy him because he exudes the qualities of a brilliant soldier, meticulous narrator, and man of faith even in times of mortal danger, especially in times of mortal danger. In the midst of the worst bombardment he has yet to face, Paul shines his brightest by illuminating in vivid detail not only the hellish onslaught unfolding around him, but also the intricacies of the human mind as his precise narration progresses from moment to moment. By delivering thoughts that carry weight down to the smallest word and turn of phrase, Paul demonstrates the strength and merit that I envy on three distinct levels: as a soldier, narrator, and man of unusual faith.
Paul most clearly displays his strength on the each of these levels when a bombardment begins to rip apart the graveyard in which he and his comrades had been resting. A single reading of the passage reveals the first level upon which Paul excels: as a soldier. His training in No. 9 platoon under Corporal Himmelstoss made sure that he would not be killed the moment he stepped foot in the trenches, but the knowledge that he displays in this time of crisis did not come from parade grounds or noncommissioned officers; it came from months of trench warfare, from experience under fire, and from the natural instinct to make the right choices when it matters most. From the beginning of the passage, one can observe Paul’s course of action: he does not think, he reacts. From the moment the first shell lands, he begins gathering information: “By the light of the shells I try to get a view of the fields” (66). When his sleeve...