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The Transformation of a Man Through War in Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front

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The Transformation of a Man through War in

Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front

"I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another (263)." Powerful changes result from horrifying experiences. Paul Baumer, the protagonists of Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front utters these words signifying the loss of his humanity and the reduction to a numbed creature, devoid of emotion. Paul's character originates in the novel as a young adult, out for an adventure, and eager to serve his country. He never realizes the terrible pressures that war imposes on soldiers, and at the conclusion of the book the empty shell resembling Paul stands testament to this. Not only does Paul lose himself throughout the course of the war, but he loses each of his 20 classmates who volunteered with him, further emphasizing the terrible consequences of warfare. The heavy psychological demands of life in the trenches and the harsh reality of war strip Paul of his humanity and leave him with a body devoid of all sentiment and feeling.

Remarque introduces Paul at the beginning of the novel as a veteran. We never see his first days in combat, but we do see comparable experiences in the battles of the replacement soldiers. Paul comments in the beginning on the secrets to staying alive in the trenches by learning the skill of differentiating between the different kinds of shells by the sounds that they make. He can distinguish between gas shells, trench mortars, and long range artillery by saying, "That was a twelve-inch, you can tell by the report. Now you'll hear the burst (52)." and imparts this key knowledge to the recruits. These actions exemplify Paul's character at the beginning of the novel. He cares about the other soldiers and uses his veteran's status as a source of knowledge for the volunteers. Paul has light humor in regards to a soldier's life as well. This quote exhibits Paul's carefree attitude toward his situation,

The soldier is on friendlier terms than other men with his stomach and intestines. Three-quarters of his vocabulary is derived from these regions, and they give an intimate flavour to expressions of his greatest joy as well as of his deepest indignation... Our families... will be shocked when we go home (8).

Paul comments on the soldier's life by describing the soldier's vocabulary. He states that when he goes home, his family will be shocked to hear this language. Paul treats his lingual freedom as privilege that soldiers have, and shows the benefits of living a soldier's life. He refers to the front as if it were a paradise, for he can use vulgar language and not worry about manners and decorum. He treats his service as a time for relaxation, recreation, and a little excitement. This attitude becomes short-lived as the realities of war sink in. When Paul volunteers for reconnaissance one night, he becomes stranded in No Man's Land (the area between opposing trenches) and begins to realize the brutality of war and starts to lose his own humanity. At the beginning of the book, Paul shows care towards his fellow soldiers and treats his service as an adventure by his education of the recruits and his excitement towards the boundaries of his vocabulary.

When Paul becomes stranded in No Man's Land, he undergoes the transformation from a carefree young adult to an inhumane, lifeless shell of a man. The change begins when Paul hides in a shell-hole, waiting for a pause in the bombardment. A French soldier jumps in as well, looking for shelter. Paul has prepared for this circumstance and stabs him three times. Paul's strikes are not mortal enough, for the wounds do not immediately kill the Frenchman. The enemy soldier dies over the next day, and while the soldier slides inexorably into the throes of death, Paul reflects on his actions and realizes the change within him saying, "...comrade, I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible too (223)." Paul expresses his deep remorse as the Frenchman dies, and he realizes the full extent that the war has changed him. Paul feels closer to the enemy more than to his own superiors. Paul knows that the only disparity between his enemy and himself is the language. While the soldier dies, Paul peruses the diary and the pictures that the Frenchman has with him. The more time Paul spends with the enemy, the less he wants to fight them. Paul acknowledges this by saying "I will fight against this, that has struck us both down; from you taken life - and from me -? Life also. I promise you comrade. It shall never happen again (226)." With these words, Paul makes a vow to repair the broken relationships that different cultures have between them. He experiences genuine remorse over the Frenchman's death, and Paul agonizes over the grief that he has suffered at the hands of war. Before this experience Paul only knew the war as numbers, not as real people and lives. Paul now understands that war kills the family and the life of decent men, and this horrifies and frightens him. Before this incident, Paul never faced death up and close; he never butchered an enemy before. Now he realizes the full extent of the horror of war, where a man kills a man more like himself than the political figurehead for which he fights. Paul knows of the horrors of war, but he does not yet understand how he can survive mentally. The scene in the shell-hole marks the climax of the novel, as Paul begins to lose his humanity here. Remarque exposes the inhumanity of war in this scene,



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