Choose one extract from All Quiet on the Western Front (from the following): a) The passage that begins halfway down page 54 ("The shelling has ceased...") and ends a third of the way down page 56 ("Young innocents—"). b) The passage that begins just below half way down page 84 ("Suddenly the nearer explosions cease") and ends two thirds of the way down page 86 ("They did not count on so much resistance"). c) The passage in chapter 7 that begins towards the bottom of page 119 ("I go and fetch my pack...") and ends towards the bottom of page 122 ("But I refuse"). Write a detailed critical commentary.
A detailed critical commentary of these passages might take into account how they relate to the major themes of the novel, two of which are strongly presented in the text excerpts.
War and Heroism
All Quiet on the Western Front is a reexamination and criticism of heroism in the context of war. Author Erich Maria Remarque uses Paul’s journey from a naive and blindly patriotic young man to a disillusioned soldier to illustrate the various ways in which nationalism and patriotism were conflated with heroism by German soldiers in World War II. This passage shows the reality of war, which turns young men into casualties and property into wasteland. The author mirrors the loss of human life with the destruction of property throughout the passage. “The hedge is destroyed, the rails of the light railway are torn up and rise stiffly in the air in great arches.”
The “fair-headed boy” is another example of this theme. When the narrator and Kat find him, he is still hopeful that he can be saved and begs them not to leave him alone. As they discuss shooting him to end his suffering, the narrator laments, “What he has gone through so far is nothing to what he’s in for till he dies.” He also internally remarks, upon seeing the soldiers who were strewn in the air by the shelling, that “each of them that was flung up saved one of us.” The ideal of patriotic heroism the boys’ teacher used to send them out to war is being laid bare by the truth of battle. The sacrifice that saved Kit and Paul was not intentional; it was merely the randomness of war that will eventually claim them as well.
Quality of Writing
When commenting critically on the quality of writing in this passage, you might focus on the way the first-person narrative found throughout the book allows this scene to come to life. Paul’s internal commentary about the fate of the fair-headed young man complements his discussion with Kit. Because the story is told in first person, this scene feels more emotionally vivid than it might in third person. Experiencing the story through Paul’s point of view allows the reader to understand his transformation more effectively. The aftermath of battle experienced in the present tense also heightens the tension within the passage.
What is most important about this passage in the context of the overall story is how starkly it contrasts with the picture of war as presented to Paul and the others by their teacher. This theme is woven throughout the narrative, often subtly. In the beginning, Paul and his friends are convinced that patriotism and the bond of friendship they share will unite them throughout the war. This passage is emotionally climactic in the sense that it illustrates Paul’s sense of isolation from the other young men who are dying around him. He pities the wounded soldiers, but the only person he seems to have a strong connection to is Kit. His tone of voice throughout this passage is somewhat mechanical and distant, more so than in earlier passages. He is becoming accustomed to the ways of war, and while he has not yet been fully transformed by it at this point in the narrative, experiencing death and having to face the prospect of killing one of his own men has changed him.
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