Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The dominant theme of “The Little Car” is war. At that time in history, the world was facing a war of such proportions and involvement as never experienced before. With hindsight, one sees that Apollinaire’s predictions about the effects of World War I were correct. The world was embarking upon a new era. World War I not only significantly altered the geography of Europe, but technology made war less personal. Armies could hide in their trenches or fly high in their planes dropping bombs and shooting at nameless, faceless enemies who were hundreds, if not thousands, of feet away.

The contrast of this little car traveling along the French roads helpless against the overwhelming forces unleashed around it speaks to the powerlessness that many felt once war broke out. War, itself, seems to be a hideous, living force operating independently of the people who first provided the spark to let it live. Though people begin war, it eventually takes on a life of its own. People lose complete control of the entity. Apollinaire offers a vision of a demonic entity summoning his “furious giants” from the other world. All the world is victim to this apocalyptic chaos.

The nature of war reverberates throughout the poem. To many, war signals the approaching of judgment day, the end of the world. Almost every war in history has caused people to question the ability of humankind to sustain itself, to ask whether self-destruction is inevitable....

(The entire section is 515 words.)