Description

Erich Maria Remarque was a German novelist (1898 – 1970). His landmark novel All Quiet on the Western Front, about the German military experience of World War I, was an international best-seller which created a new literary genre, and was subsequently made into the film “All Quiet on the Western Front”.

 


Review

All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel by Erich Maria Remarque who was a veteran of World War I. The book tells of the extreme physical and mental stress endured by German soldiers during World War I and the effect of their separation from civilian life felt by many of these soldiers upon returning home from the front. The novel was published in book form in 1929 and as a sequel called the Road Back. Both this book and its sequel were banned in Nazi Germany.  All Quiet on the Western Front sold 2.5 million copies in its first 18 months in print.

 


Study Questions

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1. How does a soldier’s feeling of being cut‐off from the rest of the world come about? How much of this feeling is due to the war?

2. What have the soldiers lost? Innocence? Love? The ability to remember their prior lives? Their sense of humanity?

3. Are these soldiers “The lost generation?”

4. What do you think causes a distance between a soldier on furlough and his former acquaintances, and family?

5. In your opinion, does Paul believe that he will ever enjoy the love of learning that he once had?

6. Does Paul killing the man who stumbles into his trench cause you to lose respect?

7. Several times in the novel, Paul and his friends mention that the war was brought about by nameless men who are power hungry. Do you agree?

8. The book mentions that the men who were of little importance in civilian life acted more important in the military. Have you ever experienced this?

9. Does it seem strange that routine drills should be conducted during the course of the fighting?

10. Has this book changed your perception of war?

 


Discussion

The essence of All Quiet on the Western Front is captured by the words of a young soldier:

“I am young, I’m 20 years old; Yet I know nothing of life, but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow…peoples are set against one another…”

Not just chronicler of a time that gripped the world and claimed nearly 30 million casualties, the book had a lasting impact on society selling more than 40 million copies since its first printing in 1928. It is also about an author who experienced war in the trenches and later for a year was in a military hospital where he must have known doctors were experimenting using patients for trials.

The reaction of the movement that saw the rise of Hitler was swift and relentless. Books including “All Quiet…” were burned and movie houses where the film was shown were attacked by mobs inspired by the Nazis. After the author fled to Switzerland, his sister was beheaded. It was said this was done because they couldn’t do it to her brother.

Erich Maria Remarque wrote two books following this telling about life after the war making a trilogy. Remarque authored a dozen books adaptations and a play while leading a glamorous life cavorting with many Hollywood actresses including Dolores Del Rio, Jean Tierney, and Marlena Dietrich. He became a U.S. citizen in 1947 and was married to movie actress Paulette Goddard for more than a decade until the time of his death in 1970.

It has been said by some that this book is the most influential book about war of the 20th Century. All Quiet on the Western Front is told in the words of a 20-year-old soldier, Paul Baumer, until the final two paragraphs. These described the death of the young soldier occurring paradoxically on “a quiet day” and with a look on his face that said he had not suffered.

The military is portrayed with cynicism, and hints that German doctors were already experimenting was especially chilling considering what is known to have happened in WW II.

The book is antiwar but mostly from the standpoint of the youth who were fighting, and weren’t sure why, in a war started by leaders who when seen close at hand were not inspiring.

The discussion centered on how soldiers are treated depending on the success and patriotism that is associated with a war. The pride and support for the veterans of WW II were contrasted with the ambivalence toward veterans of the Viet Nam war who could be unsure of what they were fighting for.

By Gene Helveston

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