A Comparison of the Main Characters in All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque and the Wars by Timothy Findley

The first up-close death of the enemy that Paul Baumer takes part in is that of a French soldier. Before this experience, he has gotten used to seeing corpses. Death, being the most feared thing in the world, no longer has an effect on him. Nevertheless, he has never observed death up-close. As he is caught in the trenches, Paul is forced to kill the French solder who jumps into it while attacking the German lines.

Paul is horrified: "This is the first man I have ever killed with my own hands, the first one I've seen at close quarters whose death I've caused" (Remarque, 156).

In his grief, Paul takes the dead man's pocket-book from him so that he can find out the deceased's name and family.

Realizing that the man he killed is no monster, that he had a family and is very much like himself, Paul apologizes to the corpse for killing him. "Why do they keep reminding us that you are all miserable wretches just like us, that your mothers worry themselves just as much as ours and that we're all just as scared off death.

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..Forgive me, comrade, how could you be my enemy" (Remarque, 158)? As dark falls, Paul regains his composure and shows no further emotions towards the French soldier's death. He distances himself emotionally from his experience.

He realizes that he cannot function as a soldier if he continues to feel remorse over the death of the enemy. Still, the comments he makes about realizing the enemy is just like him shows a level of maturity beyond his years.

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Paul grasps the concept that all men are created equally - a concept that today's society still has not fully accepted.

The first death of the enemy that Robert Ross witnesses is that of a German soldier. The events surrounding the German's death are almost as significant as the death itself. It begins with Robert Ross and his troops setting up a battle-ground in a huge crater to fight off the Germans.

Suddenly, a large cloud of poisonous gas emerges from above: "For a moment they ceased to be soldiers and became eight panic-stricken men who were about to be smothered to death with gas" (Findley, 138). Robert and his troops lie face-down in the mud for fear of suffocating from the gas or that at any moment the Germany will appear. Slowly, after the gas dissipates, Robert gets up to see a young 18-year-old German looking right at him. This incident shows that most soldiers who fight or their country are just young adults. Also, the majority of people who die in the war are all around Robert's age.

They are teenagers expected to deal with all the violent and harsh realities of war. The German is not yet desensitized to war and so he cannot find it in himself to take a life. He lets them escape. Robert begins to move his troops out. He is the last to climb out of the crater and as he does, he slips and a shot rings out.. Robert does not notice the gun he is holding in his hand, which accidentally goes off killing the German: "Something exploded. The German gave a startled cry and was suddenly dead" (Findley, 145). He sees the dead body of the German and right beside him is a rifle. It makes Robert sick to his stomach. The German can killed them all. Surely this is his intention, but he relents. Why the German does not kill them is mysterious, yet understandable.

The young soldiers are expected to forget all the morals they have learned and go to war to kill everything in sight, without a second thought. Most people have never killed a living thing, let alone a human being. The German cannot find it in himself to take a life. It is amazing how a German can escape the violence of war to find peace, but no one else can. As a result, millions die. The German's death proves to be the beginning stage of Robert's desensitization to death.

The war makes Paul feel alienated from society when he returns home for a two-week leave. He becomes desensitized to his past to the point where he feels he can no longer function in a society without war: "I find I do not belong here anymore, it is a foreign world" (Remarque, 124). The war has absorbed Paul completely and he can no longer survive without it as it becomes the focus of his entire life. The older soldiers in the war are still linked to their present lives. These soldiers have wives, children, jobs, and interests to come back to. However, all the younger soldiers have to come back to is their parents and maybe a girlfriend. The young soldiers have no jobs and no idea of what life beyond the war will be like for them. All the young soldiers know how to do is fight in the war. And this is what they do till they are injured, or killed.

This war has completely ruined the lives of Paul, his friends, and all the young soldiers who fight in wars. Paul realizes that soldiers' former lives are all but distant memories. The brutality and reality of warfare has stripped Paul of his innocence and his dreams. He knows that he will no longer be able to return to society. Because of his experiences, he can never fit in. He is left in agony knowing that his youth is lost forever. However, when Paul returns to the trenches from leave, he finds the presence of belonging among his companions: "Those voices mean more than my life, they are the strongest and most protective thing there is: they are the voices of my pals" (Remarque, 150). The war claims Paul's soul and he can no longer function without it.

Rodwell dies because his fellow soldiers become insane. They cannot deal with the horrific and violent reality of war. Also, his death proves that not everyone in the war gets killed by the enemy. Rodwell's suicide is more sad than anything, mainly because of the kind of person he is. He is put in charge of a bunch Canadian soldiers who have been fighting endlessly in the trenches and as result, they become insane.. The insane soldiers slaughter rates and mice. This outrages Rodwell and he tries to stop it. Seeing how he takes and interest, they force him to watch a killing of a cat.

They drive him to kill himself: "Half an hour later, Rodwell wandered into No Man's Land and put a bullet through his ears" (Findley, 150). His love of animals and of life in particular forces him to it. An example of how much he loves animals is in his sketchbook. Rodwell is an illustrator and in his book are hundreds of pictures of animals that look very realistic. However, in between the hundreds of pictures of animals, there is one of a human - Robert Ross. The picture is modified and mutated and does not seem realistic. This is how Rodwell sees the difference between animals and humans. Animals are peaceful and only hunt out of necessity. Humans, on the other hand, hunt for fun or power. This is understandable when one looks at what happens in the war and all the lives that are lost. His death is a product of the insanity in the war.

The soldiers realize that one person cannot affect or change the war by themselves. The war forces them to adapt to its horrific conditions. This helplessness causes the men to eventually become mad, knowing that millions will die over just a few yards of mud. The endlessness of the war, constantly waiting in the trenches anticipating death amidst rotting corpses and gunfire can be extremely frightening. Because of the war, the soldiers become insane and as a result, people like Rodwell die. Rodwell's death shows Robert the unpredictability of war - how anything can happen. Despite this knowledge, Robert cannot foresee his own unpredictable death in this unpredictable war.

Paul Baumer is now completely desensitized to death. When Paul dies, the army report does not even mention that there have been deaths on that day: "He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so still and quiet along the entire front line that the army despatches restricted themselves to the single sentence: that there was nothing new to report on the western front" (Remarque, 207).

Paul is nothing but a statistic. He is just another rotting corpse, among a pile of millions. Higher authorities only want to know the outcomes of the battles and the result of the war. They do not care about individual soldiers giving up their lives to fight a war that cannot be won by either side. Paul's death suggests the insignificance of the soldiers' lives. Paul dying alone and the army report's omission of his death can be compared to the generation of young men destroyed by the war and the lack of understanding and respect for war veterans.

Paul implies that death cannot break him because he is so alone and devoid of any hope that he can confront it without fear. Paul used to say that one does not dare try to make sense of it all -meaning the war- for if he tries, he is as good as dead. But before he dies, Paul does make sense of it all. Regardless of whether or not the wars will end, life goes on. Perhaps this is how one makes sense of it all. His generation is destroyed, and he is merely a nameless face amidst a sea of lost souls. And yet, life goes on.

Updated: Apr 13, 2023
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A Comparison of the Main Characters in All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque and the Wars by Timothy Findley. (2023, Apr 13). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-comparison-of-the-main-characters-in-all-quiet-on-the-western-front-by-erich-remarque-and-the-wars-by-timothy-findley-essay

A Comparison of the Main Characters in All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque and the Wars by Timothy Findley essay
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