All Quiet on the Western Front is a book that delves deep within these deeply resonating themes in our society, such as the ideals of the older generation being forced onto the younger generation, the constant suffering caused by the war and what it can do to you, and the romanticization of war.
War, as we know it, is the collision of two large powers in order to achieve victory for one side. How glorious is war really, though? A significant amount of soldiers lose their lives, people who could be doing better things get drafted, the war itself won’t actually change anything, and it can be very distressing for the soldiers themselves, which leads us to our next point.
PTSD, shorthand for Post-Traumatic stress disorder, is a mental disability in which an individual receives so much trauma, that they mentally snap, and start hallucinating and experiencing flashbacks. This stress is so great that it causes a fear that can never be taken away from them, and it can really break down an individual to the point of no return.
Furthermore, after all these negative effects of war were explored, people still decided to romanticize the idea of war, and the glory and all these societal constructs that meant nothing after everyone died. Teens, wanting to make their caregivers, teachers, friends proud, enlist for the war, only to find that it is none of these things, but actually, just death and sickness. In the book, Paul, the main character, has some buddies that enlist with him. Over time, though, they each die from different unfortunate cause, until it’s only him. He takes all of this into account, and his mind weakens, as it sees more and more of what the war is really like.
By the time he goes and visits his family while being on leave, he has already lost a large portion of himself, what you could call his soul, and his sanity. He is emotionally bombarded by these mixed expectations, and all these wrong ideas about the war, and he eventually breaks down.
Towards the end, Paul kills a soldier in a dugout with a knife, and he is forced to lie there and acknowledge what he’s done. He tries to help, but there’s not much he can do. At this point, his mental state has taken a nosedive, and he starts to daze off and begins to do random actions.
He pulls out the notebook of the soldier he killed and reads alot about him. He learns he had a family, and upon realizing this, the shadow of an overwhelming sense of guilt is cast onto him, making him regret ever killing him. He takes everything that has passed in account, and eventually gets shot while dozing off.
Just like Erich Maria Remarque states at the beginning of the book, it really isn’t a story about adventure, or something to be proud of. It’s just a horrible experience that he wished to pass on to us. Personally, this book bestowed a wave of feelings, and really let me realize what I have and how grateful I am for everything, and the fact I don’t have to face what that character faced, which is unfortunately the case for many, many people.
Major themes of the book:
- Being mislead by the older generation
- The affect of repeated trauma
- The idea that war is a great adventure.