Do the descriptions of World War I differ substantially in the works of Henri Barbusse (1916) and Erich Maria Remarque (1929)?

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ecofan74 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two novels, Henri Barbusse's Under Fire (1916) and Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (1928), share a great deal in terms of their attitudes toward the First World War.  Barbusse's novel provides the reader with a highly personal perspective on the horrors of war in the trenches, an aspect with which Barbusse had direct experience.  Like Barbusse, Remarque, too, was all too familiar with the experience of war in the trenches.  This aspect grants each novel a perspective not found in many wartimes works of literature.

Both novels make very clear statements about the merits of going to war, concluding that such merits do not exist.  Barbusse's novel expresses doubt concerning the French reasoning for going to war, while Remarque focuses his attention on the individuals in the trenches, specifically those soldiers who come to realize the futility of war and the senseless destruction that is its inevitable result.  As a result of their experiences, both Remarque and Barbusse came to embrace pacifism as their political outlook.

While the subject matter and the overall conclusions each author reaches connects the two works, the style in which the two texts are written serves to distinguish them.  It is generally agreed that Barbusse's novel has a poetry to it that Remarque's novel often lacks.  A common criticism of Remarque's work is that the style is inconsistent, and All Quiet on the Western Front is a solid example of this.  Overall, Remarque's style tends to be more basic and less artful than Barbusse's.

In the end, each of the novels presents a vivid picture of the horrors in the trenches of the First World War, and both clearly present the futility and senselessness of war.  The greatest difference between the two works are the styles in which they are written.