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It’s hard to identify one particular theme in Chapter Ten of Erich Maria Remarque’s World War I novel All Quiet on the Western Front, as it covers a great deal of literary ground, extending from the unexpected joy of time on liberty with an abundance of food to the sudden terror of enemy shelling interrupting festivities to the thoroughly somber description of Albert’s wounds, subsequent amputation of his leg, and the darkening of his mood. Albert is Paul’s closest friend, and the former’s declaration of his intent to kill himself rather than go through life a cripple has cast an even more somber tone on the proceedings than the horrific details of the war had already suggested. If one had to identify a theme for Chapter Ten, then, it could be the toll war takes on the young men sent to fight it. With respect to literary devices employed in this chapter, very good one involves Paul’s angry casting of a bottle into the hallway in protest against the incessant audible praying of the nuns, which interferes with the wounded soldiers’ sleep:
“I count up to five. Then I take hold of a bottle, aim, and heave it through the door into the corridor. It smashes into a thousand pieces. The praying stops. A swarm of sisters appear and reproach us in concert.”
As anecdotes qualify as literary devices, this story conveyed by the narrator is, in fact, an anecdote. A far more powerful passage in this chapter, however, provides for a more useful identification of literary devices:
“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another. I see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make it yet more refined and enduring. And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these things; all my generation is experiencing these things with me.”
With this passage, Remarque employs the literary device known as an allegory, in which the broader experience of the war is encapsulated in Paul’s observations about its impact on the individuals who suffer.
The theme of Chapter Eleven can be summed up as the narrator, Paul’s, philosophical observations on the meaning of death. The war is going horribly for the German Army, and Paul’s unit serves as a microcosm for the greater catastrophe. Casualties mount and those who aren’t wounded or killed from shrapnel and bullets are felled just the same by disease. This chapter of Remarque’s novel is replete with examples of literary devices, easily identifiable from its outset. Contemplating the situation, Paul notes that “war is a cause of death like cancer and tuberculosis, like influenza and dysentery.” He then observes: “Our thoughts are clay, they are moulded with the changes of the days;--when we are resting they are good; under fire, they are dead. Fields of craters within and without.” Remarque is using metaphors and allusions, in the case of the latter quote, an allusion in reverse. Rather than ascribing human characteristics to inanimate objects, the author has applied living characteristics to the concept of war. Another prominent use of a metaphor occurs when Paul describes the heat: “the heat sinks heavily into our shell-holes like a jelly fish, moist and oppressive . . .” Comparing the oppressive heat and humidity to a jellyfish most certainly constitutes use of that particular literary device.
Again, as occurs throughout the novel, Remarque’s narrator employs anecdotes, as when Paul describes Detering’s quest for cherries: “There is the mad story of Detering.”
Finally, the theme of Chapter Twelve – the denouement – is that, in war, there are no winners. Paul has survived the long, drawn-out and indescribably brutal experience of the war. His friends are mostly dead, and those who remain alive are alive in body only. Their spirits are dead. Paul, having time to contemplate his ordeal while recuperating from a chemical weapons attack, offers this conclusive thought:
“Here my thoughts stop and will not go any farther. All that meets me, all that floods over me are but feelings--greed of life, love of home, yearning for the blood, intoxication of deliverance. But no aims. Had we returned home in 1916, out of the suffering and the strength of our experiences we might have unleashed a storm. Now if we go back we will be weary, broken, burnt out, rootless, and without hope. We will not be able to find our way any more.”
One could find literary devices in Chapter Twelve similar to those mentioned above, and this paragraph certainly provides its share, such as amplification, but the irony inherent in the novel’s ending has to be cited:
“He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.”
Paul was just one more young man sent to his death by politicians thousands of miles away for whom war is a policy and casualties a cost of doing business.
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