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All Quiet on the Western Front

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The story of several schoolmates who symbolize a generation destroyed by the dehumanisation of the First World War, All Quiet on the Western Front tells of the men who died, and the tragically changed lives of those who survived. Remarque follows the story of Paul BÐ'umer, a young infantryman, from his last days of school to his death three years later. Whereas the journey motif is typically used to portray a positive character development, that of Paul is deliberately the opposite. In what has been dubbed the greatest antiwar novel of all time, Remarque depicts the way in which Paul is snatched away from humanity by the brutality of war. However while Paul and his comrades become separated from society, and begin to rely on their basic survival instincts, in their own surroundings they still show humane qualities such as compassion, camaraderie, support and remorse. Paul's transformation from human to soldier begins in training camp, and is reinforced by the trauma at the front. His return home further alienates him from society, and Paul begins to feel safe at the front with his friends. Nonetheless throughout the novel suffering and mortality bare Paul's true side, and he momentarily regains his former self. BÐ'umer, the German word for tree, is an early indication that Paul must remain firmly rooted in reality to survive the brutality of war.

Even when the novel begins, all Paul has known is death, horror, fear, distress, and despair. He describes the other soldiers in his company, including his German school mates with whom he enlisted after constant lecturing from their school master, Kantorek. The pressures of nationalism and bravery had forced even the most reluctant students to enlist. However weeks of essential training caused any appeal the military may have held for them to be lost. Corporal Himmelstoss, the boys' instructor, callously victimizes them with constant bed remaking, sweeping snow, softening stiff boot leather and crawling through the mud. While this seems to be somewhat cruel treatment, it was in fact beneficial for the soldiers.

"...the most important result was that it awakened in us a strong, practical sense of esprit de corps, which in the field developed into the finest thing that arose out of the war - comradeship." (p23)

The time spent at training camp prepared the boys for what was to come, by making them tough and brutal, while at the same time creating an army that does not stop to question its orders. As well as this the training camp reinforced the comradeship that continued throughout the novel.

When the boys arrive at the front, it is anything but what they had expected. Innocent and inexperienced, Paul is broken by the first bombardment. While they had been taught that duty to their country was the greatest thing, through suffering and fatality they quickly learn that survival is their new purpose.

"...we recognized that what matters is not the mind but the boot brush, not intelligence but the system, not freedom but drill." (p20)

Paul refects on the poems and plays he wrote at home, and the books he read at school. At the front, none of this matters. What is important now is eating, sleeping and staying alive. The soldiers have realised that they must forget the knowledge they once relied on, for now the only thing that can help them is their basic instincts. Though despite this, Remarque shows that the boys still have compassion towards one another; by the emotional effect Kemmerich's death has on Paul.

When Paul returns home on leave he realises his life will never be the same. Too much has happened at

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