To help you come up with your own answers about the literary devices that Erich Maria Remarque uses in the first chapter of All Quiet on the Western Front, let us review what the term “literary device” means. A literary device is a technique that a writer uses to create a particular effect that helps the reader to understand the meaning of the work. There are numerous kinds of literary devices, which you can read about right here at eNotes. Knowing the names and descriptions of literary devices will help you more readily recognize them as you read.
This novel is written in the first person and is narrated by young Paul Baumer, a soldier in the German army during World War I. Pay close attention to the tone, or attitude, of the writing. Tone is a literary device. Chapter 1 opens with a quiet scene in which the soldiers are receiving their meal. Because of the great losses recently suffered by the Second Company (out of 150 men, only 80 remain), more food than usual is available. The tone at the beginning of the opening chapter is one in which the narrator stays very much in the present, focusing on the unexpected bounty of food and only mentioning in passing the reason for it. The tone suggests a certain level of numbness to the atrocities of war, or the mental state of a person who is temporarily disconnected from the emotional intensity of an event as a psychological defense mechanism.
The narrator uses metaphors and similes to introduce his comrades. Recall that a metaphor creates a description by connecting two unlike things without the use of the words “as” or “like.” A simile is much like a metaphor, but creates a link with the use of the words “as” or “like.”
Paul describes the cook as having a “carroty head.” This is a metaphor that creates a vivid picture of a red-haired person. A fellow soldier named Tjaden “gets down to eat as thin as a grasshopper and gets up as big as a bug in the family way.” Here we have two similes that create both a clear description of the thin fellow and lend a bit of humor to a serious story.
A character named Bulcke, who is a soup-carrier, is “as fat as a hamster.” Yet another simile appears in the narrator’s recollection of the schoolmaster, Kantorek, “with the face of a shrew mouse,” who misguidedly idealizes the war and leads many young men to their doom.
One particularly powerful metaphorical image describes how the mother of Kemmerich, one of Paul’s comrades, reacts with great emotion when she brings her son to the recruiting station. As Paul recalls, she “simply dissolved into fat and water.”
By reviewing the chapter, you will find other great examples of literary devices on your own. Look especially at the narrator’s descriptions of the characters he introduces or recalls.