Article abstract: Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front, a realistic account of a soldier’s life during World War I, was perhaps the most widely read and highly influential war novel of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Erich Paul Remark, as he was known before changing his name to Erich Maria Remarque in 1920, was born on June 22, 1898, in Osnabrück, Germany. His father was a bookbinder. The family was poor and moved often; as a result, young Erich attended several different schools.
Remarque was talented in music, art, and literature, and even thought to become a professional musician. Instead, he chose to enter teacher’s training. In 1916, before he was able to begin his career as a teacher, he was drafted into the army at a time when World War I was raging. He was sent to Flanders on the western front. On July 31, 1917, he was wounded and sent to a hospital to recover. Remarque’s mother, who had been ill for some time with cancer, died while her son was in the hospital. This death appears to have profoundly affected Remarque.
During his hospital stay, Remarque began his writing career, completing a novel called Die Traumbude (1920; the dream room). The novel was published after the war, and Remarque had to sell his piano to cover printing costs. The novel, a sentimental and romantic account of his circle of friends, later proved an embarrassment to Remarque, who found the writing to be lacking in quality and maturity.
After his release from the hospital, Remarque had some trouble with authorities for wearing a lieutenant’s uniform and medals he had not earned. By all accounts a handsome young man, the medal incident demonstrated Remarque’s tendency toward flamboyance. During the early 1920’s, Remarque had several jobs before becoming an editor of Sport Im Bild (sport in pictures) in 1925. It was at this time that he married Jutta Ilse Zambona, his first wife.
While at Sport Im Bild, Remarque began publishing articles and stories. No one could have predicted from these, however, that he would produce a work of such stature as Im Westen nichts Neues (1929; All Quiet on the Western Front, 1929). Reportedly, Remarque began to suffer from depression in 1927. He attributed his depressed state to his war experiences and found that many of his former comrades were also suffering negative emotional effects. Consequently, he began working on All Quiet on the Western Front for cathartic purposes. He believed that if he committed his memories to paper, he could overcome the depression they caused. The book was completed in six weeks, but Remarque was unable to find a publisher for it. Initially, All Quiet on the Western Front was serialized in the paper Vossische Zeitung in November and December of 1928 and excited a great deal of public interest.
Remarque attempted to describe his project in the brief preface to All Quiet on the Western Front: “This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.” For Remarque, the most important message of his novel was that war destroys more men than it kills.
Remarque set All Quiet on the Western Front during the last two years of World War I along the German lines in France. During this time, the Germans were losing strength just as the Americans entered the war. The novel tells the story of young Paul Bäumer and his acquaintances who enlist in the German army at the urging of their teacher, Kantorek. The young recruits soon learn that war is not the glorious, heroic experience their elders have proclaimed but is instead a brutal, futile business. Remarque’s story is told from the point of view of a German foot soldier; however, his descriptions of the horrors of war transcend national boundaries. Allied and German veterans alike recognized their experiences in Remarque’s novel.
In the opening chapters of All Quiet on the Western Front, the young men spend most of their time behind the front lines recalling the past. Although they have become fairly cynical, they have not yet been subjected to the horrors of trench warfare. Then they participate in a horrendous battle that Remarque describes in graphic detail. After this first battle, Paul goes home on leave. While at...
(The entire section is 1892 words.)