All Quiet on the Western Front Question One.

Compare and contrast the different points of view demonstrated by the
following groups
Foot soldiers versus their commanding officers
Paul and his friends arrived at the camp with glorious images of war
(Cooper, “All is Quiet on the Western Front: A Book Review”). All
they knew about war were the images painted in their minds by people in
their village. Their welcome to the army is training under the ruthless
drill instructor Corporal Himmelstoss. He depicts a hunger for power and
lords over the trainees by punishing them even for minute infractions.
Himmelstoss has experienced the war. Beyond the open contempt for Paul
and his friends, Himmelstoss’s training as Paul comes to discover
later, was centered towards making the trainees get rid of the illusions
they came with from town. It was meant to make them tough, pitiless,
raise their suspicion and foster comradeship.
Even during training, the truth about the reality of the war was still
elusive to the trainees. The hard way in which the training was
administered made it hard for the trainees to understand its objectives.
They thought the instructors were just being sadistic for no reason and
plotted revenge against corporal Himmelstoss. The night before they left
for the front, Paul and his friends mercilessly whipped their instructor
revenging for the punishments he had made them do.
Himmelstoss’s reaction at the war front is a representation of some
commanding officer’s fear. They selfishly send new trainees to the
frontline while they remain within the safe confines of the training
camps. The vigor with which they administer training and commission
trainees for war is supposedly supposed to show their commitment to
their fatherland. It would be obviously expected that if they had a
chance to be at the frontline, they would fight without fearing for
their lives as long as victory is won. This is the opposite of what
Himmelstoss does at the front. He is fearful of getting wounded or
killed. He pretends to be badly wounded when he has only a small scratch
on his face.
The foot soldiers are completely given to the war. The death of their
friends and their own injuries did not make them contemplate quitting.
In fact, when Kemmerich learns that his foot has been amputated, he
regrets that he will never be a forester (Milestone, “All is Quiet on
the Western Front: A Film”). Anticipating Kemmerich’s death but
himself willing to push on, Muller asks Kemmerich for his boots (Cooper,
“All is Quiet on the Western Front: A Book Review”). Passing on of
boots from a wounded soldier to a healthy one was typical, and a show of
willingness to continue fighting as long as one can. Muller was also
wounded and his leg amputated, and the boots passed on to another
soldier.
Lieutenant Bertinck, however, the leader of Paul’s company is the
opposite of Corporal Himmelstoss. Bertinck is respectful to his men and
genuinely concerned about their welfare. This is depicted when he stands
up to the chef for his men to be given the rations of the fallen
soldiers on top of their allotted share. He is also deeply saddened when
he learns that only a few of the soldiers from his company had survived
an attack from the French troops. He is seen to be considerate in his
punishments to the trainees. When Tjaden is reported to him for being
rude to Himmelstoss, he gives Tjaden a light punishment and lectures
Himmelstoss on the difference between the training camp and the war
front.
His loyalty to the company is also seen by his selfless actions at the
war front. Injured and trapped in a trench, he spots a flamethrower team
from the enemy troops and gets out of cover to fire. Though he misses
the first time, he kills the flamethrower with the second shot but
immediately after, a shell explodes where he is lying and blows off his
chin. He paints the picture of a patriot who is ready to die not only on
behalf of his country but also on behalf his fellow soldiers.
Foot soldiers versus “The enemy” in the trenches
Paul and his friends arrived at the war front completely naïve of what
happens there. They had only undergone some training that they thought
was too hard for them. They were unprepared of the misery, hardships and
death that waited for them in the trenches. First was hunger. They had
not had anything since the breakfast they took before leaving the
training camp. Just as they were about to start grumbling, they learnt
that the soldiers they found in the trenches had not had anything to eat
for the past three days. They soon learnt that food was a rare commodity
at the war front.
The enemy troops appear organized and well furnished with artillery.
The French are almost always on the offensive and most times finding the
German troops unprepared. These ambushes cost the German army scores of
soldiers. The German camp seems to have a host of problems. That
soldiers would pass their time by killing lice is a picture of how
neglected their bunkers were, and so did their scramble for food.
Foot soldiers versus “the enemy” (female version) in the village
The soldiers are sent to launch an offensive and spend weeks in the
battlefield. After the combat, Paul and the surviving soldiers go to the
camp to rest before their next mission. It is one of the rare
opportunities to relax and enjoy themselves. While resting in their
camp, they notice some French girls staying across the river from their
camp (Cooper, “All is Quiet on the Western Front: A Book Review”).
The French girls are unguarded. Otherwise, Paul and his friend’s
attempt to sneak into the girl’s camp at night to give them food and
have sex would have been thwarted.
This attempt demonstrates their deprivation of marital rights by the
conditions of the war front and army camps. They risked their lives to
see the only girls available who were French: their enemies. Reproach
and punishment would have come from both sides the German commanders
for betraying them by mingling with their enemy and from the French for
sleeping with their girls. It is also surprising that the French girls
were unguarded and also short of food. This gave the German soldiers an
opportunity to enter their camp with food as an enticement.
Foot soldiers versus their families back home
Taking Paul, the lead character, as a representation of the rest, the
foot soldiers had a different taste of the war compared to their
families at home. Their families imagine that all there is at the war
front are triumphs and interesting experiences the soldiers ought to
write home about or narrate. That is the reason why Paul’s father
pesters him with questions because he is eager to listen to heroic
experiences of his son.
The foot soldiers know violence, hunger, death and untold mayhem. A life
of survival a day at a time, to the extent of killing a hog for a meal
(Milestone, “All is Quiet on the Western Front: A Film”). No one at
home knows that the soldiers compete for food with rats, have lice in
their camps and the nights are full of nightmares caused by the
relentless bombs and shellfire they witness taking lives daily. After
their first offensive venture, the remaining thirty out of a company of
one hundred and fifty wished the war would end instantly so that they
could go back home, free again to enjoy life.
Paul cannot take things normally anymore. When his father and sister
visit him, to let him know that his mother is in hospital undergoing an
operation, to the family it is only news being delivered. To Paul it is
more than news he no longer knows how to handle feelings. When he goes
on leave and finds his mother almost dying of cancer, the thought of
death taking away his mother must have thrust him into confusion. He
returns to the camp heavy-hearted. He is now scared of the war around
him. He feels that the leave has softened him.
In this confusion, he finds himself trapped in a hole and stabs a
Frenchman. Though Paul’s intention was not to kill him but to defend
himself, all his attempt to keep the French soldier alive till morning
became futile and the soldier died. Paul felt overwhelmed by guilt
because to him he has not killed an enemy, but a fellow human being.
Carl shows Paul begging the dead body to talk so that he can be forgiven
(Milestone, “All is Quiet on the Western Front: A Film”). He even
promises himself to support the dead soldiers’ family as an attempt to
relieve him of his guilt. He has lost most of his close friends and now
he had just killed a human being himself. He had seen several faces of
death he probably did not know what to make of death anymore
Foot soldiers versus other townsfolk Paul encounters while home on leave
Similar to his family, the townsfolk expect heroic narrations from the
soldiers when they meet. All their patriotic enthusiasm and charisma
hangs on baseless images of war painted by people who have never been at
war. Some of the townsfolk such as Professor Kantorek are hypocrites.
They urge young men to put their lives on the line in the name of
patriotism, yet they do not join in the war that they so passionately
claim to support. Kantorek only joins the army much later when the boys
he had taught and seen recruited have risen in ranks.
Foot soldiers are still human beings. They felt tired and overwhelmed
many times at the war front. They had frustrations of their own. When
Paul went home on leave, he longed to narrate these frustrations to his
friends so that he may be comforted and encouraged before going back to
the battle front. When he attempted to give his side of the story, the
townsfolk laughed at what he expected to sadden them and called him a
coward when he poured out his frustrations in honesty. It seemed as
though the townsfolk expected anyone who joined the army to be
automatically incarnated into an invincible being that knows nothing but
victory.
Question Two.
Discuss Paul’s discovery that he cannot really “go back home”
after his experiences at the front.
Though the town has not undergone much change, Paul gets the feeling
that he does not belong there anymore when he visits the town on leave.
He feels a ridge between him and the townspeople. Nobody seems to
understand or reason with him. His interaction with his father and his
old schoolmaster do much to reveal that.
His father, unaware of how traumatic some war experiences are,
persistently and eagerly asks Paul to narrate his experiences in the war
front. Paul finds such questions stupid and distressing and wishes that
his could understand that a man cannot sit and talk of such things. His
old schoolmaster seems to demean Paul and his friend’s efforts at the
war front. He compares their advancements with those of their peers
making it big in Paris. He suggests to Paul some of the advancement
strategies that he could apply. He hopes Paul will consider getting out
of their small war front cocoon into the vast world laden with endless
opportunities.
The night before he returns to the war front, he sits with his sick
mother the only person with whom he had a remaining connection, but she
is sick and could be dying soon. Paul sits there and amidst the
expressions of love and concern he is exchanging with his mother are
deep thoughts. He wonders to himself why he always has to be apart from
his mother. Departure is one of the hardest things for him to deal with,
but as he comments while parting with his friend Albert, soldiers must
learn how to deal with the departure because it happens every day.
As he leaves his leave comes to an end, Paul regrets coming to spend his
leave at home. He feels more distant than before. The interactions with
his family and old friends has done nothing but draw them further apart.
Before joining the German army at nineteen, Paul was a sociable,
sensitive and passionate young man with a visible love for his family.
He was creative and used to write poems a lot (Bloom 17). The man who
was in town on leave was different. War had changed him, eating into his
personality and attitude. He could not remember having any link with
past aspects of his life like poetry. That is why he felt alien in his
hometown.
In Carl Laemmle Junior’s 1930 film based on Remarque’s novel, he
depicts Paul’s frustration with his townspeople’s ignorance about
the war. When he visits his former high school, he finds Professor
Kantorek giving a lecture on the “glory of war” (Milestone, “All
is Quiet on the Western Front: A Film”). That reminded him of the
passionate speech Kantorek gave years ago glorifying the army and their
cause of saving their fatherland. It was after that speech that Paul and
several of his friends enlisted for recruitment.
He had now been in the war front now for years and experienced the
indescribable conditions under which the soldiers have to survive. That
is the reason why he could not bear to listen to someone heap words of
glory to the war that had taken the lives of his friends, got others
amputated and brutally changed their initial personalities. It was not
as glorious for them as Kantorek’s speech had made them believe. Paul
could not stand his townspeople’s mindless patriotism. Their image of
the war front and the reality was irreconcilable. He also felt
irreconcilable with this people.
Back at the war front, Paul has lost most of his friends including
Katczinsky his mentor. He has lost himself having done all sorts of
things he had never imagined doing such as bribing, stealing food and
worst of all: taking lives of fellow human beings though from the enemy
camp (Bloom 20). He would have wanted to leave the front for a more
peaceful, familiar place, but this place was not his hometown. How would
he live among people who thought his narration of the horrible state of
life in the war front was a sign of cowardice?
What options are available to him?
Paul returns to the war front before his leave is over. He clearly has
no future in his town anymore. He regrets having gone home in the first
place. He joined the German army right after high school and had no
other training besides military training. He does not have many options
to exercise, in fact, it is almost imminent his life will all be spent
in the war front. The reason is that the only place he could have
returned to and try to make something out of his remaining life was his
hometown. By the time he returned to the camp from leave, it was almost
given he would never go home again.
Paul realized there was no dilemma about his life he was stuck in the
military. In fact, when he arrived back from leave and got reunited with
his remaining colleagues, he felt glad yet to his own family he felt
like an outsider. Soon after they are sent to guard a village that was
being shelled heavily. By now, Paul has given himself fully to the war.
He had lost so much since joining the army: his old self, his freedom
and his friends. He was convinced he had no aims outside the military to
pursue. The war was his cause that he could even afford to call their
assignment to guard the village under siege a “good job”.
Paul and Albert sustain injuries while evacuating the village and are
taken to a Catholic hospital. His friend loses a leg. While
recuperating, Paul interacts with fellow soldiers and comes to learn
that there were several such hospitals full of permanently wounded
soldiers dying day by day. He is lucky to be fit and resume active duty.
The destruction and hopelessness he had seen war impress on people had
left him devastated.
When he returned to the front from the hospital, he found that more of
his friends had died. When Kat died from a grenade splinter that hit his
head, Kat’s death seemed to be Paul’s final blow. He became careless
with his life, occasionally commenting that peace was coming soon, but
he did not see his future as bright and hopeful. He only had one option
left which was to die. On a peaceful day when no other news were
reported, his only option was exercised by an enemy sniper.
Works Cited
All Quiet on the Western Front. Dir. Lewis Milestone. Perf. Lew Ayres,
Arnold Lucy, Ben Alexander, William Bakewell, and Louis Wolheim.
Universal Studios, 1930. Film.
Bloom, Harold. Erich Maria Remarque`s All Quiet on the Western Front.
New York: Bloom`s Literary Criticism, 2009. Print.
Cooper, Michael. All is quiet on the Western Front: A Book Review.
Ezine Articles, 8 Sept. 2005. Web. 30 Sept 2013.
Remarque, Erich M, and Brian Murdoch. All Quiet on the Western Front.
London: Vintage, 1996. Print.
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