All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

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significance of quote “We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial—I believe we are lost” (p.123) - what is the  significance of this...

significance of quote

“We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial—I believe we are lost” (p.123) - what is the  significance of this quote in Chaper 6?

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shake99 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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They are like children because war has destroyed the foundation upon which they understood their lives. It's like starting over again, learning to perceive and understand the world again with a new set of parameters. They are like old men because of what they have seen, it has taken their innocence.

They are lost because they don't know what to believe in now. If their previous life has been destroyed, what is left for them? They feel that they cannot return to the life they lived before, but don't know what is next, assuming they survive war.

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accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This quote is one of the reasons why this book is such a classic war novel. In this one quote alone, the author manages to capture the whole gamut and range of emotions, which are quite paradoxical, that are experienced by soldiers fighting on the front during WWI. Note the way that the forlornness of the soldiers is juxtaposed with the experience. They are at one and the same time both like children and old men.

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Verdie Cremin eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The second answer is indeed excellent, and there isn't much to add to it. I love the way the passage works with opposites and paradoxes:

“We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial—I believe we are lost”

Somehow, simultaneously, they are like children and like old men.  They are crude but they are also sorrowful (which implies deeper emotion than crudeness does), but they are somehow also not only sorrowful but also "superificial," which returns us to the kind of shallowness already suggested by "crude." Finally, notice the nice ambiguity of "I believe": Paul doesn't say that they are lost, he merely says that he thinks they are lost. The whole passage is brimming with splendid ambiguity.

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belarafon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Even with the life experience of old men, it is still possible to find oneself "lost" in the world, without a major purpose or reason to continue. A young man who has the knowledge or mental age of an old man -- through trauma or a hard life -- may find his efforts "superficial" because he does not believe them to have meaning.

(Personal: I find this quote profoundly depressing.)

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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After the experiences on the front, Paul feels that the "tender, secret influence that passed from them [their desires and scenes of their youth] into us could not rise again." For, with the war and its killing fields, they have become detached from their other lives:

But it would be like gazing at the photograph of a dead comrade; those are his features, it is his face, and the days we spent together take on a mournful life in the memory; but the man himself it is not.

There is no longer any "comradeship with the things and events" of their existence that ihas been cut, making things incomprehensible to the young men.  They are lost in the events of the present, united only in the "course of [their] days."  Truly, part of Paul and the other young men has died.

This detachment that Remarque writes about is not unlike the detachment and disllusionment of Hemingway's characters who have survived...

(The entire section contains 9 answers and 1,062 words.)

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