All Quiet On The Western Front All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel set in World War I, based around the changes formed by the war on one young German soldier. During his time in the war, the main character, Paul Baumer, changes from an innocent boy to a hardened veteran. More importantly, during the course of this change, Baumer outcasts himself from those societal influences that has been the base of his life before the war. This rejection comes as a result of Baumer’s realization that the pre-enlistment society does not understand the reality of the Great War. His new society and fellow soldiers then becomes his foundation because that is a group which understands the truth as Baumer has experienced it.
Remarque demonstrates Baumer’s withdraw from his traditional life by stressing the language of Baumer’s past and present societies. Baumer either can not, or chooses not to, communicate truthfully with those representatives of his innocent and former days. Further, he is shocked by the dull and meaningless language that is used by members of his past society. As he becomes estranged from his former, traditional, society, Baumer is able to communicate effectively only with his military partners. Since the novel is told from the first person point of view, the reader can see how the words Baumer speaks are disagreeing with his true feelings. In his preface to the novel, Remarque maintains that “a generation of men ..
were destroyed by the war,” (Remarque, All Quiet Preface). Indeed, in All Quiet on the Western Front, the meaning of language itself is destroyed. Early in the novel, Baumer notes how his elders had been easy with words prior to his enlistment. Specifically, teachers and parents had used words to persuade him and other young men to enlist in the war effort. After relating the tale of a teacher who exhorted his students to enlist, Baumer states that “teachers always carry their feelings ready in their waistcoat pockets, and trot them out by the hour” (Remarque, All Quiet I. 13).
Baumer admits that he, and others, were fooled by this rhetorical deceit. Parents, too, were not reluctant to using words to shame their sons into enlisting. “At that time even one’s parents were ready with the word ‘coward'” (Remarque, All Quiet I. 13). Remembering those days, Baumer asserts that, as a result of his war experiences, he has learned how shallow the use of these words was.
Indeed, early in his enlistment, Baumer understands that although authority figures, “taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that, we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards-they were very free with these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see.” (Remarque, All Quiet I. 17) What Baumer and his comrades have learned is that the words and expressions used by the society do not reflect the reality of war and of one’s participation in it. As the novel progresses, Baumer himself uses words in a similarly false fashion.
A number of instances of Baumer’s own misuse of language occur during an important episode in the novel-a period of leave when he visits his home town. This leave is unfortunate for Baumer because he realizes that he can not communicate with the people in his home town because of his military experiences and their limited understanding of the war. When he first enters his house, for example, Baumer is overwhelmed at being home. His joy and relief are such that he cannot speak; he can only weep (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 140).
When he and his mother greet each other, he realizes immediately that he has nothing to say to her: “We say very little and I am thankful that she asks nothing” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 141). But finally she does speak to him and asks, “‘Was it very bad out there, Paul?'” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 143). Here, when he answers, he lies, apparently to protect her from hearing of the horrible conditions from which he has just returned. He thinks to himself, “Mother, what should I answer to that! You would not understand, you could never realize it.
And you never shall realize it. Was it bad, you ask.-You, Mother,–I shake my head and say: “No, Mother, not so very. There are always a lot of us together so it isn’t so bad.” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 143). Even in trying to protect her, by using words that are false, Baumer creates a separation between his mother and himself. Clearly, as Baumer sees it, such knowledge is not for the inexperienced.
On another level, however, Baumer cannot respond to his mother’s question: he understands that the experiences he has had are so overwhelming that “civilian” language, or any language at all, there would be no use in describing them. Trying to repeat the experience and horrors of the war through words is impossible, Baumer realizes, and so he lies. Any attempt at telling the truth would have no point to it. During the course of his leave, Baumer also sees his father. The fact that he does not wish to speak with his parent shows Baumer’s movement away from the past.
Baumer reports that his father “is curious, about the war, in a way that I find stupid and distressing; I no longer have any real contact with him” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 146). In considering the demands of his father to discuss the war, Baumer, once again, realizes the impossibility, and, in this case, even the danger, of trying to relate the reality of the war through language. There is nothing he likes more than just hearing about it. I realize he does not know that a man cannot talk of such things; I would do it willingly, but it is too dangerous for me to put these things into words. I am afraid they might then become gigantic and I be no longer able to master them.
(Remarque, All Quiet VII. 146). Again, Baumer notes the impossibility of making the experience of war meaningful within a verbal context: the war is too big, the words describing it would have to be accordingly enormous and, with their symbolic size, might become uncontrollable and meaningless. While with his father, Baumer meets other men who are certain that they know how to fight and win the war. Ultimately, Baumer says of his father and of these men that “they talk too much for me .. They understand of course, they agree, they may even feel it so too, but only with words, only with words” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 149).
Baumer is d …