What are some of the literary devices used in Chapter 4 of Erich Maria Remarque's novel All Quiet on the Western Front?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In his novel All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque uses a wide variety of literary devices and figures of speech.  Consider, for example, the following paragraph, chosen at random:

The earth bursts before us. It rains clods. I feel a smack. My sleeve is torn away by a splinter. I shut my fist. No pain. Still that does not reassure me: wounds don't hurt till afterwards. I feel the arm all over. It is grazed but sound. Now a crack on the skull, I begin to lose consciousness. Like lightning the thought comes to me: Don't faint! I sink down in the black broth and immediately come up to the top again. A splinter slashes into my helmet, but has already travelled so far that it does not go through. I wipe the mud out of my eyes. A hole is torn up in front of me. Shells hardly ever land in the same hole twice, I'll get into it. With one lunge, I shoot as flat as a fish over the ground; there it whistles again, quickly I crouch together, claw for cover, feel something on the left, shove in beside it, it gives way, I groan, the earth leaps, the blast thunders in my ears, I creep under the yielding thing, cover myself with it, draw it over me, it is wood, cloth, cover, cover, miserable cover against the whizzing splinters.

Among the literary devices used here are the following:

ALLITERATION. Example: “The earth bursts before us.”

ASSONANCE. Example: “The earth bursts before us.”

METAPHOR. Example: “It rains clods” [comparing falling pieces of earth to rainfall].

FRAGMENT USED FOR EMPHASIS. Example: “No pain.”

BRIEF SENTENCES USED FOR EMPHASIS. Example: “No pain.”

ONOMATOPOEIA. Example: “Now a crack on the skull” [“crack” almost sounds like the action or noise it describes]

COMMA SPLICE USED TO IMITATE A BREAKDOWN OF ORDER. Example: “Now a crack on the skull, I begin to lose consciousness.”

SIMILE. Example: “Like lightning the thought comes to me.”

METAPHOR. Example: “I sink down in the black broth” [muddy water is compared to soup].

ALLITERATION. Example: “I shoot as flat as a fish.”

ASSONANCE. Example: “I shoot as flat as a fish” [note that the final “a” is not included because its sound is different from the sounds of the other “a’s.”

STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS. Example:

there it whistles again, quickly I crouch together, claw for cover, feel something on the left, shove in beside it, it gives way, I groan, the earth leaps, the blast thunders in my ears, I creep under the yielding thing, cover myself with it, draw it over me, it is wood, cloth, cover, cover, miserable cover against the whizzing splinters.

Here the pace of the phrase and the lack of normal punctuation take us into the narrator’s mind. We experience events as rapidly and in as chaotic a way as he experiences them.

As this paragraph shows, talented writers employ many stylistic techniques in combination to achieve effective phrasing. Writers don’t necessarily choose each technique deliberately and consciously. Instead, such techniques probably most often occur to them without deliberate thought; they come to the writer as if the writer is inspired. Later, when revising, the writer may alter, add, or delete techniques, but, however effective writing happens, it often seems “inspired.”

 

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