Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Western front. Theater of World War I in which German forces faced the Western Allies along an extensive series of battlefields that ran from the Belgian coast south into northern France. (The eastern front was the line along which Germany confronted Russia.) Much of the western front was made up of intricate systems of trenches from which troops sallied forth across treacherous “no-man’s-lands” in mostly futile attacks on enemy positions. Through most of the war, the battlefronts moved very little, and many troops stationed in the trenches endured continuous bombardment and suffered from appalling health conditions as formerly peaceful farmlands and pleasant countryside were converted into bloody battlefields.
It was along the western front that the French and British armies and those of their allies aligned themselves against the armies of Germany and its allies, using such modern weapons and implements as poison gas, tanks, powerful explosives, flame throwers, hand grenades, machine guns, long-range artillery, aircraft, and barbed wire. Thanks to modern technology, the scale of death and injury was catastrophic. Individual soldiers were considered expendable in outmoded military strategies governed by policies of attrition dictating the winners would be the last side to have soldiers still standing. This was especially true on the western front, where battles continued for months while corpses and casualties...
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World War I
Named for its complex involvement of countries from Northern Europe to Africa, western Asia, and the U.S., World War I, called the Great War, was ignited by a single episode. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia. As the Austrian government plotted a suitable retribution against the Serbs, the effect on Russia was taken into consideration. Because Russia was closely allied with Serbia, Austrian officials worried that the slightest aggression against the Serbs would result in Russian involvement. As a precaution, Austria sought support from Germany, its most powerful ally. Kaiser Wilhelm II immediately vouched for Germany's assistance, telling the Austrian powers that his nation would support whatever action the Austrian government might take.
On July 23, 1914, the Austrian empire presented an ultimatum to the Serbs, demanding that they suppress Serbian nationalist activity by punishing activists, prosecuting terrorists, squashing anti-Austrian propaganda, and even allowing Austrian officials to intrude into Serbian military affairs. Two hours before the expiration of the forty-eight hour deadline on the ultimatum, Serbia responded. However, its response fell short of complete acceptance of the terms and so was rejected by the Austrian authorities. As war between Austria and Serbia loomed on the horizon, both sides experienced a massive...
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Point of View
Remarque has been praised for the simple, direct language of his war novels in contrast to their often violent subject matter; he is also acknowledged for his ability to create moving, realistic characters and situations. His prose style is punctuated with fragmented narrative passages that mirror Paul's often disoriented state of mind. The plot moves in a "bildungsroman" format, demonstrating a young man's personal development. There are impressionist details that move in tableau fashion. Remarque's choice of a first-person narrator does, however, create one possible problem: the two concluding paragraphs have to stem from a new, apparently omniscient third-person narrator whose intervention is needed after the death of the first-person narrator. The story does not suffer from this change of viewpoint or from the absence of any explanation of the mechanics by which it came to be set down.
The narrative stance provides Remarque with a realistic context for a naive and simple style, which is part of the novel's popular appeal, as well as a fragmented, uncoordinated syntax and use of the present tense, a form that reflects immediacy; these features thus became part of the famous 'frog's eye view' of the war. He is able to comment on events through Paul Baumer himself—and through him of the other characters—without the need to provide an omniscient narrative perspective: indeed with a requirement not to do so. Style and point...
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All Quiet on the Western Front is an antiwar novel which, in its simple direct narrative, conveys the pathos, horror, and waste that result from war. Through his nineteen-year-old narrator, Remarque details the lives and deaths of Baumer and his comrades as they move from innocence to knowledge about war's terrible effects and consequences. Moreover, the novel's poignant tone results from Remarque's relentlessly piling up detail after savage detail about war. Besides the more particularized deaths of Baumer and his classmates are details about other deaths, both German and enemy. During a heavy artillery barrage, a young German recruit insanely rushes out of a dugout, is blown to bits, and lumps of his flesh and bits of his uniform plaster the trench sides; trench mortars blow men out of their clothes and hurl body parts into trees; during a charge a German lance corporal's head is blown off, but he "runs a few steps more while blood spouts from the neck like a fountain." A French soldier's head is cleaved in two with a trenching tool, and another Frenchman's hands and stumps of arms hang on the barbed wire. Significantly, by detailing the deaths on both sides of the wire, Remarque universalizes Baumer's and his classmates' experiences to include all combatants — German, American, English, and French — a fact made more poignant in the memorable scene in which Baumer spends the night in the shell hole with Gerard Duval whom Baumer has fatally stabbed and...
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In its "Preface," Erich Remarque writes that the novel will "simply try to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were still destroyed by the war," a statement that underscores the novel's social concern: the effect that World War I will have on people and the world. Protagonist-narrator Paul Baumer traces war's effects on him and his classmates who patriotically enlisted en masse to fight for Germany, their Fatherland. Once into battle, however, they lose their patriotic illusions as well as their limbs, eyes, and even lives. From their battlefield experiences they learn that the old world exists no longer; that they stand on the threshold between a world not quite gone and a new world not quite arrived; and that they have been "cut off from activity, from striving, from progress" and have "become a wasteland." In a succinct passage, Baumer underscores the novel's social implications: "Through the years our business has been killing; it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what shall come of us?" These two questions are not only at the heart of All Quiet on the Western Front and the "Lost Generation" that emerged out of World War I, but they also become the basis for Remarque's later novels.
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Compare and Contrast
1920s: In the world of finance, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hits 381. A period of general prosperity for the country (except for the farmer), the government adopts a "laissez-faire" attitude towards big business. This policy ends with the collapse of the economy following October 29, 1929, the stock market crash, when $30 billion disappears, a sum equal to what the war cost America.
Today: The Dow Jones Industrial Average reaches 7,000, as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan keeps a steady watch on the burgeoning economy and cautions investors of the ever-present possibility of high inflation and interest rates that could adversely affect the market. The Securities and Exchange Commission and Banking Acts established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Administration set the precedent for improved vigilance in the stock market.
1920s: The German dirigible, Graf Zeppelin, arrives October 15, 1902 after covering 1630 miles in 121 hours on its first commercial flight. The voyage from Friedrickshafen inaugurates transatlantic service by aircraft. The balloon-like airship, the zeppelin, is used in World War I to move silently over enemy territory and drop bombs.
Today: The Concorde enables passengers to fly twice the speed of sound between Paris and New York in three and a half hours. Developed by Col. John Boyd, a legendary U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, the F16, used in the Persian Gulf War, has the...
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Topics for Further Study
Compare the soldier's viewpoint in The Red Badge of Courage with All Quiet on the Western Front. Examine the similarities and differences of battle in the Civil War and World War I. Compare as well the quality of camaraderie, as presented by Stephen Crane and Erich Maria Remarque.
Analyze the historical events of World War I in relation to Paul Baumer's personal history, and how his life reflects the changes taking place around him: the military force of Germany, its bravado and destruction, the tyranny of schoolteachers and other influential adults, and the insanity of modern warfare.
Explain why Remarque expressed pity for the post-World War I "lost generation."
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All Quiet on the Western Front belongs to the literature of war genre that extends backward in time to Homer's Iliad and forward to the Viet Nam novels. Significantly, however, All Quiet on the Western Front marks a change in attitude towards war, an attitude similarly expressed by other World War I writers — poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and novelists like Ernest Hemingway, Dalton Trumbo, and Humphrey Cobb. Instead of glorifying the warrior hero and war itself, Remarque catalogs the ghastly horrors and sheer absurdity of World War I. In fact, in the prefatory quotation, Remarque writes that All Quiet on the Western Front will not be an "adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it." The word adventure connotes those Greek, Roman, and Medieval epics that glorify war as the great adventure, but in claiming that his novel is not an adventure, Remarque rejects the older heroic ideals of fighting for God, country, glory, and honor. In fact, many critics believe that World War I not only marked the collapse of the belief in the progress and perfection of mankind, but it also destroyed the belief in the warrior hero whose personal distinctiveness depended on his noble sacrifice for God, King, and Country. In this sense, All Quiet on the Western Front foreshadows Remarque's A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1954), a World War II novel, and Hemingway's A Farewell to...
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The Road Back (1931), Remarque's second novel, relates what happens to Baumer's friends who survive the war and return to a home which, of course, they will find changed not only because of their own experiences and maturity, but also because of the war's effect on their country and civilization. Returning home, they see that their towns are besieged by socialist protesters who fire on their own people when demonstrations turn threatening; that inflation is rampant and food scarce except on the black market; and that the young ex-soldiers are indeed isolated from family, wives and sweethearts, and the older generation. In All Quiet on the Western Front, Baumer says that he and his friends "have become a wasteland"; in The Road Back, the wasteland image becomes even more pronounced as the veterans try to find meaning and purpose in their lives.
Arch of Triumph (1945) is a continuation of the theme that Remarque used in All Quiet on the Western Front, The Road Back, Three Comrades (1937), and Flotsam (1941): the effect of war on peoples and nations. However, instead of World War I, Arch of Triumph is mainly about the precipitous times during which the world hurtled towards World War II. Set in Paris in 1939, the story focuses upon the Jewish and anti-Nazi refugees who escaped from Germany before the Nazis had gained complete control of the country.
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With simulated World War I trenches built on movie lots in Santa Monica, California, Universal Studios began filming All Quiet on the Western Front on Armistice Day, 1929. Four months later, the film, starring Lew Ayers as Paul Baumer and Louis Wolheim as Kat, was completed, became an instant classic, won an Academy Award, and periodically reappears on Public Broadcasting Stations and other channels. In its depiction of the young recruits being stripped of their grand illusions by the harrowing realities of World War I, the black-and-white film adaptation conveys the novel's tone and spirit. Indeed, the New York Times reported that the film is "a trenchant and imaginative audible picture ... most of the time the audience was held to silence by its realistic scenes." The film does, however, change the novel's ending in that in the film a sniper kills Baumer when he reaches out to cup a butterfly in his hand.
Fifty years later, on November 14, 1979, producers Martin Starger and Norman Rosemont began filming a Technicolor version of All Quiet on the Western Front for the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" series. Starring Richard Thomas (Baumer), Ernest Borgnine (Kat), Donald Pleasance (Kantorek), Ian Holm (Himmelstoss), and Patricia Neal (Baumer's mother) and filmed in Czechoslovakia in ten weeks, the film also preserves the novel's tone and spirit which are further enhanced by Technicolor. As did the 1929 film, this 1979 version changes the...
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All Quiet on the Western Front was adapted as a film in 1930 by Lewis Milestone, who won an Academy Award for his direction. The movie, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture of the year despite controversy in both the United States and Germany, starred Lew Ayres, John Wray, and Louis Wolheim and is available from MCA/Universal Home Video.
The film was remade into a television movie in 1979. Directed by Delbert Mann and produced by Norman Rosemont, it starred Richard Thomas, Donald Pleasence, Ernest Borgnine, and Patricia Neal and is available from CBS/Fox Video.
A recording was produced by Prince Frederick, with Frank Muller narrating, 1994, five cassettes.
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What Do I Read Next?
The Road Back is Remarque's sequel to his most famous novel. Published in 1931, the story describes the reactions and adjustments of Ernst, another sensitive young soldier, and his comrades as they return to a postwar world.
A Farewell to Arms is Ernest Hemingway's novel about a young American lieutenant in World War I, his experience at the Italian front, and his sad but beautiful love affair with a British nurse.
The Captain of Kopenick, by playwright Carl Zuckmayer, a close friend of Remarque and also a soldier in the same war, is a true story of an ex-convict who donned the uniform of an army captain and held the mayor of Kopenick to ransom. It is also a satire of the German people's willingness to take orders from anyone in military uniform.
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller is about the initiation of Captain John Yossarian, U.S. Air Force officer, into the grim realities of war and describes, in hilarious prose, the mechanical society in which we live today.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Christine Barker and R. W. Last, Erich Maria Remarque, Oswald Wolff (London) and Barnes and Noble (New York), 1979.
Louis Kronenberger, "War's Horror as a German Private Saw It," in the New York Times Book Review, June 2, 1929, p. 5.
Joseph Wood Krutch, "Glorious War," in the Nation, Vol. 129, No. 3340, July 10, 1929, p. 43.
Brian R Rowley, "Journalism into Fiction" Im Westen nichts Neues," in The First World War in Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Holger Klein, Macnullan, 1976, pp. 101-12.
Hans Wagener, Understanding Erich Maria Remarque, University of South Carolina Press, 1991.
For Further Reading
Modris Eksteins, "All Quiet on the Western Front and the Fate of a War," in The Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 15, No. 2, April, 1980, pp. 345-65. This critic argues that All Quiet on the Western Front became a success because it accurately portrayed public sentiment about war in 1929.
Hildegarde Emmel, History of the German Novel, trans. Ellen Summerfield, Wayne State University Press, 1984. This book places Remarque's story in the context of other German war novels.
Richard Arthur Firda, All Quiet on the Western Front: Literary Analysis and Cultural Context, Twayne, 1993. An excellent general introduction to the themes, structure, style, and history of All...
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Bibliography (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Barker, Christine R., and R. W. Last. Erich Maria Remarque. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1979. An accessible biography, with a great deal of material that is relevant to All Quiet on the Western Front. Good, brief coverage of the novel’s popular and scholarly reception. The best place to start further study.
Firda, Richard Arthur. “All Quiet on the Western Front”: Literary Analysis and Cultural Context. New York: Twayne, 1993. Contains much biographical information, as well as a somewhat pedantic but solid discussion of the novel. Useful annotated bibliography.
Pfeiler, Wilhelm K. War and the German Mind: The Testimony of Men of Fiction Who Fought at the Front. New York: Columbia University Press, 1941. An excellent study of German World War I novels. The chapter on All Quiet on the Western Front treats the novel in the context of contemporary war novels; especially good on political background and reception.
Taylor, Harley U., Jr. Erich Maria Remarque: A Literary and Film Biography. New York: Peter Lang, 1989. Four brief chapters supply a very basic, even journalistic treatment of the novel and the fascinating story of the 1930 American film based on it. Useful chronology.
Wagener, Hans. Understanding Eric Maria Remarque. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991. The best starting point for further general study, a basic text that treats...
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