All Quiet on the Western Front (German: Im Westen nichts Neues) is a novel by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I. The book describes the German soldiers' extreme physical and mental stress during the war, and the detachment from civilian life felt by many of these soldiers upon returning home from the front.
This theme is an offshoot of the destructiveness of war. Paul's generation grew up too fast, its perceptins of life grossly distorted by the horror or war. The youthful idealism that might someday have blossomed into constructive maturity has been nipped in the bud. Unlike earlier generations, Paul can never again hope to find comfort and inspiration in the hollow rhetoric of politicians and generals. The war has shattered their illusions. Their innocence is gone, and only in aimless skepticism is left to fill the void.
The bond between soldiers is very important. Here, Paul's comrades are introduced, and their closeness is illustrated. Their defiance of Ginger is as a group, and so is their reading mail together on the toilet.
One positive aspect of war and being with other soldiers for a prolonged period of time is the comradery that occurs. These men become closer than friends, but instead they become brothers. They fight together, go through hell together, and try their hardest to survive together, producing a bond like no other.
Towards the end of the book after more of his comrades were killed Baumer saw more of the futility of war. Even though it was clear to all the soldiers and Baumer that they were losing the war, they were still required to fight. More recruits were dumped into battles only to die due to their inexperience. "A single flyer routed two companies of them for a joke, just as they got off the train- before they ever heard of such a thing as cover"(237). This quote shows how all the new recruits were sent to their deaths.
In Chapter 9, Paul displays another example of his belief that he is no longer worthy of good things. He is dirty and doesn't want to get in the bed, because to him the bed is innocent, while he is not. In the same way, the fact that the nurse is young and pretty makes him unable to ask her for help urinating, because to him, she is an innocent.
Since it was the older generation, embodied in figures such as the schoolmaster Kantorek, who pushed the younger generation into war, the young people have now lost faith in those in authority. The older generation was supposed to be wiser, but all they did was send their sons into the hell of the trenches. For this reason, Paul can no longer trust the older generation. He has nothing to learn from them, except not to be like them. All the older people he encounters on his leave have a complete misunderstanding of the war, and yet they think they know everything.
Remarque, who fought in World War I himself (he was wounded five times) gives great insight into the psychology of the soldier who has to endure such unendurable conditions. The only reason a soldier manages to survive in the trenches is because he is "indifferent and often hopeless" (p.187). The appalling slaughter that is the soldier's everyday companion results in the "annihilation of all human feeling" (p. 196). Paul explains this psychology of survival most completely at the beginning of Chapter 11. It is the reduction of life to its essentials. The soldier only allows that which is absolutely necessary to life to occupy his mind and dictate his actions; "all else lies buried in gloomy sleep" (p. 270). The sole goal is the preservation of basic existence; the men have been transformed into "unthinking animals." But this is a precarious and vulnerable position to be in, since it is artificial and can only be maintained with great effort.
This novel really shows how war changes a person. It changes how they think, react, portray themselves. It changes everything about a person. Remarque being in the war himself was able to share how much war affects a person and their outlook on life. Staring death in the face for as long as these soldiers do, they learn to lose emotion and stick with their instincts.
When you break down the word "sacrifice," the first part, "sacr," means sacred or holy. Sacrifice implies a set of beliefs for which one is willing to give something up to achieve. In All Quiet on the Western Front, the men sacrifice everything for nothing. They give up their lives for a set of ideals that are either incomprehensible or false. The fact that they sacrifice for unknown reasons gives rise to great and widespread tension.
"Who am I?" is the most aggressively confronted question in All Quiet on the Western Front. Our narrator discovers his own identity as he grows from a naïve youth to a wizened front line fighter. He defines himself in many ways, mostly relative to other people and their ideas. He lauds "salt of the earth" type people, like his friend and mentor Kat. He is repulsed by men with no identity (i.e., those who define themselves by the uniform they wear rather than the content of their character). In an odd way, our narrator stays naïve throughout the book, hopeful to the very end, because he continues narrating. Had he truly given up hope for self-actualization, he would have stopped telling his story.
Nationalism is the unswerving dedication to one's homeland, and it swept Europe in the years leading up to WWI. Kantorek, the boys' former schoolteacher, epitomizes nationalism; Paul describes how Kantorek rallied his pupils with patriotic speeches and bullied them into volunteering for the war, ridiculing them for cowardice if they stayed at home. However, Kantorek and his generation are not the ones dying in the war. It is the "'Iron Youth,'" as he calls them, who give up their lives for the political power games of a few global leaders.
Paul can be characterized as the quintessential young German man. He has no huge interest in fighting or war, but enlists anyway. He is put through hell and back for his country, even though he sees so many people die. At some points he wants to give it all up, but he has to do this for his country, even if it not what he believes or wants.
The reader is also introduced to all the new forms of assault World War I developed--tanks, airplanes, machine guns, more accurate artillery bombardment, and poisonous gas. The consequences of war are given due consideration--Paul watches friends die, sees dislocated body parts, and tours a hospital of the wounded. Each time Paul counts the thinning ranks of his company, we are reminded that all the fighting is only over a small piece of land--a few hundred yards or less--and that, very soon, the fighting will renew over whatever was gained or lost.