All Quiet on the Western Front as an Anti-War Novel
Beneath this, however, Remarque has composed a literary treasure which, above all, seeks to illustrate war as that which is engrained in the nucleus of humanity and through the hugely negative effects of war depicted, seeks to question humanities apparent advancement through its need to engage in such a futile exercise as war.
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Remarque’s Liberal Humanist ideology is given expression through the correlation between war and nature, thus emphasizing the innate position of war within man, the ultimate paradox contained within an advanced mankind engaging in primitive conflicts and the ironic search for an omniscient being derived from man’s reduction to the barest quest for survival. In addition through the examination of the negativities surrounding the social institutions and hierarchies set up in the absence of god, All Quiet on the Western Front becomes much more than an emotive and well constructed piece of historical realism.
In All Quiet on the Western Front, the connections between war and the natural surroundings in which it is fought give rise to the position of war the collective psyche of mankind. The military jargon of the ‚the white puffs of smoke from the tracer bullets? is followed by the natural imagery of ‚the sun shining on them? in order to emphasize the apparent synchronization between war and nature. The colour imagery of white of the bullets and yellow of the sun, being light colours, connote the harmonious relationship between nature and war.
Through the proximity of phrases describing both war and nature in an endearing fashion we are led to conclude that war and nature, or that which is primitive, are fundamentally linked. The gaian imagery ‚Earth, with your ridges and holes and hollows into which a man can throw himself , where a man can hide? is ironic as it takes a man-made irrationality, war, to bring about appreciation of the ever-present naturality that is Earth. The repetition of ‚the red poppy? , an example of colour and olfactory imagery, connotes the recurrence in war of that which the red poppy historically symbolizes, death yet perpetuation.
In addition, the ability of the red poppy to lie dormant in the soil for years before sprouting is congruous to the aptitude for the capability to make war to lie quiescent within human nature yet only surface periodically. Thus it can be understood that Remarque positions the reader to understand, through its relation to nature, war as that which is imbued in humanity. The natural imagery ‚heads and rifles stick out from the white mists? gives rise to that which often acts as a catalyst for war.
The mist connotes a lack of clarity or vagueness and the fact that rifles, symbolic of war, protrude from this leads to the inference that war is often illogical as it arises from uncertainty. Moreover, the fact that heads, emblematic of vulnerability due to its medically vital nature, obtrude from the confusion shows that it is the vulnerable and | Adam Solomon | Page 4 | primal component of the individual that leads them into war rather than the evolved, developed part which ironically is also found within the skull yet is apparently subservient to raw instinct.
The visual imagery with a cosmic slant ‚I see the stars and I see the rockets… and for a moment I imagine I am at home in the garden, blissfully? seek to ultimately differentiate between hostilities and happiness, thus illustrating Remarque’s opposition to war. The desensitization and perversion of the speaker to the point where both stars and rockets in the night sky are considered nothing more than routine shows how war has the ability to affect the elemental fabric of man.
Through the juxtaposition of the idyllic garden, connoting the lighter side of nature, and the devilish war, signifying the dark depths of human temperament, it can be concluded that war is not compatible with joy and this novel seeks to bring about revulsion to war. In this way we can understand that through Remarque’s comparisons of war and nature, the reader is positioned to understand war as both an intrinsic part of the human experience and on the whole negative and swingeing.
Remarque gives representation to the irony found in the barbaric and primitive nature of the supposedly technologically enlightened man. The military terminology within ‚I tear my gas mask out of the case, my helmet is knocked aside? indicate the new generations of weapons which a soldier must be cosseted against. The helmet, representative of traditional methods of war, is replaced by the gas mask, symbolic of the latest cohort of weaponry that science has developed. Sadly it is human advancement in its ability to exterminate other humans that necessitates the need of relevant defences.
Thus, Remarque is commenting on the ironic fact that for all humanities advancement, it has not alleviated the overwhelmingly detrimental practice of murder, only refined it. The simile ‚the whole battle rages around me like a circus? seeks to show the paradox between the ordered knowledge that humanity has gained when such understanding is applied to a chaotic and primitive activity. A circus connotes action for the viewing pleasure of others in the same way as often a war is fought for the ideals of others with survival the best outcome for the individual.
Thus, Remarque shows that order within chaos is still chaos and whatever evolution may take place, the negativity and destruction of war is inescapable. The metaphor ‚our harsh breathing is the rasping of the clockwork? as well as the animal imagery to create an analogy ‚and the machine gun has been set up and starts to bark away? gives rise to the methodical and inevitable nature of death as a result of the technologies which guarantee such assured demise.
Due to the fact that life connotes variability, through the removal of the erratic when faced with a barrage of bullets from a machine gun, it can be concluded that it is ironically human progress which has ultimately stripped human life of one of its characteristic traits and that humanities ability to utilize progress for a purpose markedly unnatural, murder, is their essential | Adam Solomon | Page 4 | short falling. The irony found in the fact that in the middle of war zone a soldier ‚lugs around his textbooks? and during a ‚barrage of artillery? swots up ‚physics formulae? gives rise to paradoxical nature of war.
The physics formulae and textbooks are symbolic of mans pursuit and attainment of empirical fact. Thus the ultimate absurdity comes from the fact that in spite of such enlightenment, man still fights fellow man as barbarians. In this way we can understand that through the contrast of the barbaric war yet apparently advanced combatants, Remarque seeks to highlight the carnal instincts of humanity as powerful enough to overcome even centuries of enlightenment. All Quiet on the Western Front presents a world that, due to its homo-centrality, has vast ravines in its value systems, which are congruous too the negative side of Liberal Humanism.
The colloquial rhyming quasi-parable ‚give ‘em all the same grub and all the same pay and the war would be over and done in a day? shows that it is the humanly created hierarchy, and specifically the quest by some to gain more power, that leads to such conflicts as war. Remarque shows that in world where the Chain of Being, as seen in the 16th century, is long gone and what is valued by society is almost entirely determined by its mortal inhabitants, and not god given right, there often exists conflicts fought by many for the direct benefit of a few.
Remarque depicts humanity as the primary catalysts of their own predicament, nullifying external influences such as god. The consequences of such responsibility placed firmly and solely on man’s shoulders are shown through the listing what has become all the soldiers can think about ‚trenches, hospitals, the common grave – there are no other possibilities? . A lack of god connotes a lack of purpose or meaning and as such, humanity has created for itself a nihilistic world in which to survive is to succeed.
Remarque alludes to Germany’s monarch when a soldier says ‚Me and the Kaiser, we are both fighting. The only difference is the Kaiser isn’t here!? The Kaiser represents the last monarch in Europe to hold complete power in his country through assumed divine mandate. Through Germany and subsequently the royalty’s destruction, Remarque leads the reader to conclude that this war is not only is a godless and carnally centred environment, but it seeks to wipe out all figments of society which are not.
The personification of the symbolic ‚uniform? as having ‚much too much power? s further proof that as god is removed from the forefront and man becomes the centrality of the world, man becomes afraid of being solely accountable for his actions. For this reason, humanity looks to a uniform, a symbol, to use as justification for their actions and ironically moves back toward the concept of obeying omniscience through the adherence to what the uniform represents. In this way we can understand that a world with man at the centre, a liberal humanist world, is as much as problematic to the human condition as one which is Theo-centred.
So too, does | Adam Solomon | Page 4 | war accentuate the problems that arise from a perceived lack of purpose that arises from the removal of god as the determiner of fate and as such, All Quiet on the Western Front is opposed to war. Furthermore, Remarque comments that while humanity has followed the ideology of Liberal Humanism and removed god from his formerly impervious position, man has risen above man to dominate and assume quasiomnipotence.
The emotive language filled with military lingo ‚If we threw away the guns, the grenades – we could have been brothers, but they never want us to know that? seeks to show that they, governments and bureaucracy, have become mans intangible tormentor, wielding control comparable to that which god formerly held. Therefore humanities removal of the divine to gain freedom and subsequent responsibility for their actions has only led to trenchant slavery to mundane institutions.
The paradox ‚we have turned into human animals? ives expression to what Remarque believes war can do to a world with Liberal Humanist values. In the Crusades during the Dark and Middle ages, the participants were driven by the belief that they were doing god’s work. This is not the case in All Quiet on Western Front as the central catalyst for the happenings of the world is now man. The soldiers described are fighting for a humanely inspired ideal, thus they are not people doing the work of god, but rather those who do the work of people, animals.
The rhetorical question ‚God is there anything I hold sacred? shows that when a homo-centred world can be exposed by war to be shallow, man again turns to god for answers. The emotive ‚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? shows how in a world where man is subjugated to man, the underlying equality and shared human experience is lost.
The illogical ‚forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?? seeks to represent how overall, countries go to war because their social institutions create differences, yet are united by the causal common humanity. In this way we can understand that it is only in the middle of a war caused by manmade social values and hierarchies, as a result of Liberal Humanist ideologies, that Paul and his comrades can come to appreciate the insignificance of human differences when compared to the commonalities and thus expose the flawed nature of war.
In conclusion, through the discussion of the positioning of war as that inbuilt in man, the overall paradox of the enlightened man in the primitive war as well as Remarque’s expression of the negative aspects of a world increasingly founded on Liberal Humanist values, we gain a sense of how All Quiet on the Western Front is fundamentally written as a book that is opposed to war yet nevertheless gives insights to quantify humanity’s seemingly eternal capability for it.