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Fearful, bloody, psychological death, depression, pain, agony, and suffering all describe warfare. In history, trench warfare had been seen in what is known as the Great War. World War I, as people refer to it today, went on from 1914 to 1918 while changing the political landscape of Europe. World War I brought new weapons such as cannons and machine guns into play as well as a different style of fighting known as trench warfare. By bringing this new style of war along the style also brought more blood, gruesomeness, and death. The style of warfare also would have psychological effects on the soldiers. One of the World War I survivors, Erich Maria Remarque, wrote about his take on World War I. In his novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, Remarque shared his experience from the war. Some of his experiences included fighting on the battle front, seeing his friends die, and being in the trenches. In the novel Remarque presented the meaninglessness of the war by using irony, symbolism, and conflict.
To begin, Remarque illustrates instances of irony, throughout the novel, to describe the meaninglessness of the war. First, Paul, the main character, does not have the sense of belonging that he feels when he is at war and does not want to be home even though his mother is dying. By not having the sense of belonging, he does not want to be on leave any longer. He says “I ought never to have come on leave…” (185). When Paul says this, it seems as if he wants to be back on the front with his comrades even if he has a chance to die there. Secondly, Paul becomes confused on who the enemy is that he is actually fighting against. Paul comes in contact with Russian prisoners in chapter 8. He thinks to himself, “A word of command has made these silent figures our enemies, A word of command might transform them into our friends” (193-194).
This shows Paul that all people are equal and that they are regular human beings. It shows you that the war may change people. Lastly, throughout the novel, there are a pair of boots that are passed down between the soldiers. These boots are significance because whoever posses the boots end up dying. As expected, Paul ends up with the boots and dies in the end. “He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front…” (296). Paul’s death was really ironic because when he dies there is no fighting going on; it was truly All Quiet on the Western Front. Those are some ways that the author, Erich Maria Remarque, illustrates a vast amount irony throughout the novel, All Quiet on the Western Front.
In addition to the extensive amount of irony, the author also uses symbolism to convey the meaninglessness of war in the novel. First, towards the beginning of the novel there are a couple of horses that are dying on the battlefield (Front). The horses dying on the front symbolize helplessness and innocence; “It is the moaning of the world, it is the martyred creation, wild with anguish, filled with terror, and groaning” (62). This relates to the horses as well as the soldiers, because they are just innocent men that are being dragged in to this war to fight. Next, in the novel there are cherry blossoms that are brought up during a conversation between Detering and Paul. Detering says, “I have a big orchard with cherry trees at home. When they are in blossom, from the hay loft they look like one single sheet, so white. It is just the time” (276). The cherry blossoms symbolize freeness from the war.
Detering wants to go back home to his wife and wants to live his life and not waste it fighting for basically nothing. In addition to the cherry blossoms, Kemmerich’s medical scene acts as a symbol. In the beginning of the novel Kemmerich is in the hospital after having his leg amputated. Kemmerich gets weaker and weaker while he is in the hospital. When his time comes to die there are no doctors that will help him. “As I catch a sight of the white apron I seize hold of it… he shoves me away, says to the hospital-orderly ‘You see to it’ and hurries off to the operating room” (32). This scene symbolizes the lack of importance of the soldiers that are wounded in the war to the doctors. The doctors do not care about the soldiers enough to help the wounded soldiers. Overall that is how Remarque uses symbolism to convey that war has no meaning in the novel.
In addition to irony and symbolism, the author develops the ideas of war through internal and external conflict. To begin, Paul’s best friend, (Kat) dies and this creates a major conflict for Paul. The orderly is with Paul while Kat is lying on the ground dead “he points to Kat. ‘he is stone dead… I know better than that. He is dead” (290). For Paul this is a critical conflict because he has nothing to live for now that Kat is dead. In addition to Kat’s death, the encounter Paul has with Gerard Duval helps convey the theme of the novel. After Paul kills Duval, Paul says, “Comrade, I did not want to kill you… But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response… I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?” (223).
Paul regrets killing Duval, realizing for the first time that Duval is a man just like him, innocent and helpless. Finally the last conflict Paul experiences is internal. He needs to figure out if war is worth the agony, suffering, and pain that the soldiers go through. He says, “Just as we turn into animals when we go up to the line… so we turn into wags and loafers when we are resting…We want to live at any price; so we cannot burden ourselves with feelings which, though they may be ornamental enough in peacetime, would be out of place here” (138-139). Paul concludes that it is not worth it. Finally, that is how the author, Remarque, conveys the ideas of war though internal and external conflict in the novel.
Ultimately, Remarque proves that war is meaningless by using irony, symbols, and conflict. Remarque describes the meaninglessness of war and the pain and suffering that goes along with it. The author describes what he endures in the war, such as his close friends dying, his experiences battling in the trenches and also how he viewed war, which put him through pain, agony, and suffering. In conclusion, Remarque is setting an example of what war really is that war is not a beautiful thing, it is not great to die for your country, and war is pointless.