Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Western Front

*Western Front. The novel is set somewhere along the scar of World War I trenches that stretched across northern France, southeast to the Vosges, and south to the Swiss border—a 550-mile-long fortified line with barbed wire, machine guns, and heavy artillery. In his dedication, Barbusse places the action in the valley of the Ourcq, in the department of Seine-et-Marne. However, he realizes that precision of location along a battlefront is not as important as the precision of experience of those who actually do the fighting—as he himself had done during the war.

The men of Barbusse’s squad live not on the earth but in the earth, in the midst of a vast and “water-logged desert” on which convoys of troops have traced deep ruts that glisten in the weak morning light “like steel rails.” The soldiers dig trenches into these desolate fields, defenses that are carpeted with slime that makes sticky sounds with each step and reeks of the night’s human excretions. In this part of the world the men are “buried deep” in an everlasting battlefield.

The real home of Barbusse and his fellow soldiers is the home of the trenches whose tranquility is constantly broken by sounds of the methodical destruction of human life.

Barbusse never lets readers forget his main theme: that those who fight for the liberation of the country also must fight for their own liberation. That the...

(The entire section is 524 words.)