Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 566
Pepin fascinated his friends and the passers-by with a pair of fawn gaiters, borrowed from a corpse . . . Poterloo has been walking about for a month in the boots of a German soldier, nearly new, and with horseshoes on the heels. Caron entrusted them to Poterloo when he was sent back on account of his arm. Caron had taken them himself from a Bavarian machine-gunner, knocked out near the Pylones road.
In the above quote, we see how the war affected those who fought during World War One. The narrator tells us that the soldiers in his squad are common men from all walks of life. Before signing up to fight, Lamuse worked as a farm laborer, while Paradis was a carter (someone who transports goods for a living). Another, Papa Blaire, was a farmer. Corporal Bertrand, who is described as strong and handsome, worked as a factory foreman. Meanwhile, Tulacque was a barman prior to the war, while Eudore ran a roadside cafe.
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These men survived in war by appropriating boots, equipment, and clothing from fallen enemy soldiers. Their actions highlight the desperation of life on the battlefield. According to the Geneva conventions, it is a war crime to rob or despoil the dead. The first Geneva Convention was signed by 12 nations in 1864.
The next Geneva Conventions were signed in 1906, 1929, and 1949. You can read all about them from the link below. The conventions laid out rules for the treatment of the wounded, captured, and killed. Protections were also delineated for medical personnel and religious leaders.
In the novel, however, Barbusse describes the reality of the battlefield. There, hunger, privation, and physical pain precipitate callous actions and threaten to destroy the thin veneer of civilization.
In line from left to right fires emerge from the sky and explosions from the ground. It is a frightful curtain which divides us from the world, which divides us from the past and from the future . . .
. . . we see craters opened here and there, side by side, and merging in each other. Then one knows no longer where the discharges fall. Volleys are let loose so monstrously resounding that one feels himself annihilated by the mere sound of the downpoured thunder of these great constellations of destruction that form in the sky. One sees and one feels the fragments passing close to one's head with their hiss of red-hot iron plunged in water . . . The stridor of the bursting shells hurts your ears, beats you on the neck, goes through your temples, and you cannot endure it without a cry. The gusts of death drive us on, lift us up, rock us to and fro. We leap, and do not know whither we go. Our eyes are blinking and weeping and obscured. The view before us is blocked by a flashing avalanche that fills space.
In the passages above, Barbusse describes the experience of leaving the protection of the trenches. He and his fellow soldiers must advance, despite their fear and the terrible din caused by machine gun fire and artillery shells. The order has been given, and they must obey.
Barbusse uses kinetic, visual, and auditory imagery to reinforce the terrible reality of war for his readers. The effect is visceral, immediate, and heart-breaking. Soldiers must press on, even when their peers fall beside them. Essentially, the above passages highlight the gruesome terror of war and the sacrificial courage of each soldier.