Erich Maria Remarque Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

ph_0111204725-Remarque.jpg Erich Maria Remarque Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Poetry, adventure stories, and articles by Erich Maria Remarque (ruh-MAHRK) appeared in the 1920’s in German newspapers and magazines before the young author had assumed his pen name, and the novel Die Traumbude was succeeded by Station am Horizont, a novel that first appeared in installments in the journal Sport im Bild. In the United States, several novels by Erich Maria Remarque reached mass circulation in magazines such as Collier’s and Good Housekeeping before being published as single titles.

The film The Other Love (directed by André De Toth and released in 1947) was based on Remarque’s unpublished story “Beyond,” and the story “Der letzte Akt” (1955) was based on his screenplay of the book Ten Days to Die (1955) by Michael A. Musmanno, concerning the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals. Questions of guilt and moral responsibility in wartime, dominant themes in Remarque’s works, are treated also in his two-scene play Die letzte Station, which was produced in Germany in 1956 and was adapted in 1974 as Full Circle.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the world’s most successful novels. Within months after its appearance, it was widely translated and distributed, and some four decades later its author observed that the work had been translated into almost fifty languages and had a circulation of twenty to thirty million copies, including so-called pirated editions. Only in the degree of its popularity, however, was this book exceptional among Erich Maria Remarque’s works, for Arch of Triumph and The Night in Lisbon were also best sellers, and more than half of his novels, as well as a short story, have been adapted into films.

Remarque’s choice of subject matter explains the primary reason for his appeal. In his novels set against the background of the world wars, issues such as personal moral responsibility and military subordination, war guilt, and pacifism are treated from the perspective of the soldier. His novels set in the Weimar Republic depict the dislocation and disorientation of that era, a time of inflation, unemployment, and political unrest. Finally, his exile novels depict the fate of emigrants and exiles from Hitler’s Third Reich.

The interest evoked by Remarque’s choice of subject is heightened by a streamlined, uncomplicated style that moves quickly and lends itself with an objective, semidocumentary tone to the excitement of automobile racing, the suspense of chase and pursuit, the stark horror of war, or the brutalities of a concentration camp. Consistent with the author’s technique are characters drawn with such simplicity that they appear without betraying any insight into their internal lives or psychological motivations.

The ease with which Remarque’s works can be read has influenced his critical reception in Germany, as has the magnitude of his commercial success. In Germany, his novels are classified as Unterhaltungsliteratur (entertainment literature), a rubric with pejorative aesthetic connotations. Nevertheless, critics are uneasy with such an evaluation, for the author’s style is not banal, and moral issues are not trivialized in his work. Among readers not bound by critical predispositions, such as his English-language audience, for example, Remarque’s work is more highly regarded.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

How did World War I bring out the best and the worst in Erich Maria Remarque?

Was World War I the cause or the occasion of the view of life that Remarque expressed in his novels?

Has Remarque more to tell readers about the combat or the home front in the war?

Was it necessary for Remarque as a novelist to grapple with deep philosophical problems?

Has anyone written a better novel about World War I than All Quiet on the Western Front?

Does the fact of critics’ and readers’ concentration on All Quiet on the Western Front unfairly diminish Remarque’s reputation?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Barker, Christine R., and R. W. Last. Erich Maria Remarque. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1979. An excellent introduction to Remarque’s career, this study covers all of his major fiction.

Firda, Richard Arthur. “All Quiet on the Western Front”: Literary Analysis and Cultural Context. New York: Twayne, 1993. One of Twayne’s masterwork studies, this is an excellent tool for students of the novel.

Firda, Richard Arthur. Erich Maria Remarque: A Thematic Analysis of His Novels. New York: Peter Lang, 1988. Contains a good deal of helpful biographical material. Useful also for Firda’s interpretation of the later novels.

Gilbert, Julie. Opposite Attraction: The Lives of Erich Maria Remarque and Paulette Goddard. New York: Pantheon, 1995. Primarily a biography and love story. Gilbert also provides detailed notes and an excellent bibliography.

Murdoch, Brian. The Novels of Erich Maria Remarque: Sparks of Life. Camden House, Rochester, N.Y.: 2006. This examination of the life and writing of Erich Maria Remarque is an excellent resource for anyone interested in his works, but particularly for those who only know him as the author of All Quiet on the Western Front. Murdoch portrays Remarque as an artist, shedding light on his personal life and his reputation as a playboy. His entire body of writing, even his lesser-known novels, fall under close scrutiny as Murdoch examines them individually, paying attention to their recurring themes and motifs. Fans of Remarque as well as those unfamiliar with his writing stand to gain a new understanding of the author through this volume.

Owen, C. R. Erich Maria Remarque: A Critical Bio-Bibliography. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1984. An excellent source for finding additional critical commentary on Remarque.

Taylor, Harley U., Jr. Erich Maria Remarque: A Literary and Film Biography. New York: Peter Lang, 1989. This detailed study provides excellent background information on Remarque’s family origins, his early years, military service, and the filming of All Quiet on the Western Front. Includes bibliography, chronology, filmography, and index.

Wagener, Hans. Understanding Erich Maria Remarque. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991. Separate chapters on all of Remarque’s major work, interweaving biographical background with literary analysis. Includes a chronology, notes, and an annotated bibliography.