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Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Regarding the effects of World War I on German youths who were caught up in the chaos, Paul Baumer asks, "What will happen afterwards? And what shall become of us?" These questions furnish the social concerns for The Road Back, Remarque's second novel. In fact, as its title suggests, the novel relates what happens to Baumer's friends who survive the war and return to a home which, of course, they will find changed not only because of their own experiences and maturity, but also because of the war's effect on their country and civilization. Returning home, they see that their towns are besieged by socialist protesters who fire on their own people when demonstrations turn threatening; that inflation is rampant and food scarce except on the black market; and that the young ex-soldiers are indeed isolated from family, wives and sweethearts, and the older generation. In All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), Baumer says that he and his friends "have become a wasteland"; in The Road Back, the wasteland image becomes even more pronounced as the veterans try to find meaning and purpose in their lives. At the same time, however, The Road Back has a more affirmative ending than All Quiet on the Western Front in that The Road Back concludes with Ernst Birkholz, the nineteen-year-old narrator, affirming that although part of his life has been devoted to hating and killing, the past will become the basis for building a road back: "It will be a road like other roads, with stones and good stretches, with places torn up, with villages and fields — a road of toil . . . And I may . . . often stumble and fall. But I will get up again and not just lie there; I will go on and not look back."