In All Quiet on the Western Front, what do the symbols of boots, horses, and cancer represent?
In All Quiet on the Western Front, boots represent playing the part of a soldier. In Chapter 2, Paul says of his boots, "standing up one looks well-built and powerful in these great drainpipes. But when we go bathing and strip, suddenly we have slender legs again and slight shoulders. We are no longer soldiers but little more than boys" (page 29). Boots are part of the armor that turns a young man physically and psychologically into a soldier. When the men remove their boots, they are civilians, but donning boots immediately makes them resume playing the role of soldiers.
In Chapter 4, when Paul and his fellow soldiers are under attack, he says he hears the cries of wounded horses. He describes the cries in the following way: "It's unendurable. It is the moaning of the world, it is the martyred creation, wild with anguish, filled with terror, and groaning" (page 62). The horses stand for the most innocent kind of victim of the war. They are martyrs, and their cries are filled with anguish. Paul and the other soldiers find the cries of the horses more difficult to take than the cries of men, and soldiers try to shoot the horses to put them out of their misery.
In Chapter 7, Paul returns home and finds out his mother has cancer. Paul's mother is clearly grieving that he must return to the war. He says, "How destitute she lies there in her bed, she that loves me more than all the world" (page 184). The war is also like a kind of cancer that makes parents sick with grief about their children who have to fight in it. In Chapter 11, Paul compares war to cancer. He says, "War is a cause of death like cancer and tuberculosis, like influenza and dysentery. The deaths are merely more frequent, more varied and terrible" (page 271). War is a type of cancer that kills rapidly.
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