Where is personification in All Quiet on the Western Front?

Personification is a literary device by which an author attributes human characteristics to an abstract concept or something nonhuman. There are several purposes behind the use of this device to enable the reader to better understand an author’s meaning. Remarque employs personification frequently throughout his novel, All Quiet on the Western Front.

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Personification is figurative language related to metaphor. Authors use this literary tool as a method of describing something to make it more easily understood, to emphasize a particular point, or to paint a picture in the mind of the reader. With this type of literary device, an abstract concept or an inanimate object is spoken of as though it were human. It is endowed with life, human attributes, or human emotions.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque uses the device of personification effectively throughout the entire novel. Even in his introduction to the book, the author tells the reader “It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.” Here Remarque begins his story attributing the human capability of launching shells with the intent to destroy life to the abstract concept of war. He continues using personification in this manner through each chapter of the book with images like, “The dug-out heaves, the night roars and flashes.”

Remarque takes situations like a predicted shelling of infantry troops and creates the image of Mother Earth as the protector of soldiers on the battlefield:

From the earth, from the air, sustaining forces pour into us—mostly from the earth. To no man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier. When he presses himself down upon her long and powerfully, when he buries his face and his limbs deep in her from the fear of death by shell-fire, then she is his only friend, his brother, his mother; he stifles his terror and his cries in her silence and her security; she shelters him and releases him for ten seconds to live, to run, ten seconds of life; receives him again and often for ever.

The novel is written in short descriptive passages and brief segments of dialogue. To supplement the lack of extensive descriptive sentences, Remarque often uses personification to make his points. For example, when one soldier is unable to stand the battle stress, he goes AWOL and is subsequently captured. The author could have written several explanatory and descriptive pages telling the reader that the soldiers in battle understood the loneliness a comrade might feel under the circumstances, but a military tribunal lacks the sense of human emotion when weighing the soldier’s actions. Instead, Remarque uses personification of the military court to make his point succinctly:

Anyone might have known that his flight was only homesickness and a momentary aberration. But what does a court-martial a hundred miles behind the front-line know about it?

The very concept of the front as being quiet is the kind of literary personification technique Remarque employs to express more to the reader using fewer words.

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