Descriptions of nature are evident throughout All Quiet on the Western Front. Why does the author present these images?
In Erich Maria Remarque's novel, images of Nature, the "lost world of beauty," represent the loss of innocence and peace of the "Iron Youth" as Kantorek alludes to the young German soldiers. Often the juxtaposition of natural images with the images of war express the incomprehensibility of wars, in which suddenly one country becomes an enemy while another is an ally. At times, too, Nature is perverted and turns upon people as man distorts it with bombings and war trenches; the onslaught of the rats upon the men in the trenches exemplifies twisted side of nature.
- Loss of Innocence and Peace
In Chapter I, Paul Baumer and his troop are five miles from the front. As they wait before being moved, Paul describes their time as "wonderfully care-free hours." In beautiful prose, there is a description of nature that expresses the innocence of the youth and portends their vulnerability later on when they are unprotected:
Around us stretches the flowery meadow. The grasses sway their tall spears; the white butterflies flutter around and float on the soft warm wind of the late summer...We take off our caps and lay them down...The wind plays with our hair, it plays with our words and thoughts. The three boxes stand in the midst of the glowing, red field-poppies.
Later, there is mention of poplar trees that Paul and his classmates knew as youth, and "man collapsing like a rotten tree." So, the world of beauty described in Chapter I becomes lost.
- Natural Images vs. Images of War
In Chapter II, Franz Kemmerich, after having his leg amputated, says, "I wanted to become a head-forester once." That Franz at one time has been interested in forestry stands in sharp contrast to the amputation of his leg. Futilely, Paul tries to cheer Kemmerich by mentioning the poplar trees at a convalescent home at Klosterberg, a scene of ripening corn and sunlit fields, but Kemmerich has said "once" as though he has lost hope with his lost limb.
In Chapter VII, Paul and others swim naked, having stowed their clothes in watertight boots, across a river and share their food with starving French girls. The water cleanses the men of battle and they are able to enjoy the girls, although Paul stays somewhat disengages. Further in this chapter, Paul goes home and finds that he cannot resume from where he left. He alludes to the old poplars that he loved as a child as he "played truant" with his friends by them. But, the "memories that come have ...two qualities" Paul narrates. For, their
stillness is the reason why these memories of former times...awaken...sorrow--a vast, inapprehensible melancholy. Once we had such desires--but they return not.
The peaceful images of Nature contrast now for Paul with the "quietness" that does not exist at the front.
- Ugliness of Nature/Perversion of Nature
With the destruction of the beauty of nature through the firing of shells, the trenches, and the gassing, Paul states that
The tender, secret influence that passed from them into us could not rise again.
This turning, this perversion of nature is symbolized with the rats that come into the trenches and eat the soldiers' bread.
In the final chapter, Nature is no longer effective in eliciting peace for Paul Baumer. He sits in the sun,
the trees show gay and golden, the berries of the rowan stand red among the leaves, country roads run white out to the sky line, and the canteens hum like beehives with rumours of peace.
However, Paul feels that life will find its own way.