All Quiet on the Western Front: Alienation


According to the Webster\'s New World College Dictionary, alienation is 1.
Separation, aversion, aberration. 2. Estrangement or detachment. 3. Mental
derangement; insanity.
The theme of All Quiet on the Western Front is about how World War I
destroyed a generation of young men. It has taken from them the last of their
childhood years, it has destroyed their faith in their elders, it has taught
them an individual life is meaningless--and all it has given in return is the
ability to appreciate basic physical pleasures. According to Paul, though, the
men haven\'t entirely lost human sensitivity: they\'re not as callous as they
appeared in Chapter 1, wolfing down their dead companions\' rations. It\'s just
that they must pretend to forget the dead; otherwise they would go mad.
Remarque includes discussions among Paul\'s group, and Paul\'s own
thoughts while he observes Russian prisoners of war (Chapters 3, 8, 9) to show
that no ordinary people benefit from a war. No matter what side a man is on, he
is killing other men just like himself, people with whom he might even be
friends at another time.
But Remarque doesn\'t just tell us war is horrible. He also shows us that
war is terrible beyond anything we could imagine. All our senses are assaulted:
we see newly dead soldiers and long-dead corpses tossed up together in a
cemetery (Chapter 4); we hear the unearthly screaming of the wounded horses
(Chapter 4); we see and smell three layers of bodies, swelling up and belching
gases, dumped into a huge shell hole (Chapter 6); and we can almost touch the
naked bodies hanging in trees and the limbs lying around the battlefield
(Chapter 9).
The crying of the horses is especially terrible. Horses have nothing to
do with making war. Their bodies gleam beautifully as they parade along--until
the shells strike them. To Paul, their dying cries represent all of nature
accusing Man, the great destroyer.
In later chapters Paul no longer mentions nature as an accuser but seems
to suggest that nature is simply there--rolling steadily on through the seasons,
paying no attention to the desperate cruelties of men to each other. This, too,
shows the horror of war, that it is completely unnatural and has no place in the
larger scheme of things.
The betrayal of the young by their elders becomes an issue on several
occasions. In the first two chapters of the book we learn how misguided Paul was
by the teachings of parents and schoolmasters. We also see how older people
cling to the Prussian myth of the glory of military might when Paul goes home on
leave in Chapter 7. The Kaiser\'s visit in Chapter 9 adds some hints of
Remarque\'s specific disillusionment with the leaders of his own country. From a
broad study of literature and world history, we can see that these older people
were not individually to blame for their views. They were simply handing on what
was handed on to them. Still, we can also understand why Paul and his friends
are so bitterly disappointed and so angry to discover that their elders were
wrong. Most readers feel a little sad that young men should consider the act of
ridiculing adults their greatest goal in life, but we can also understand why
they take revenge on Himmelstoss and Kantorek (Chapters 3 and 7). We even get a
certain kick out of what they do, understanding their need to take out their
disappointment on someone they know. These situations are, in miniature, an
acting out of the bitter anger and disillusionment Paul feels when he says in
Chapter 10, "It must all be lies and of no account when the culture of a
thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out."

Category: English