‘All Quiet on the Western Front (AQWF) written by Erich Marie Remarque is a fantastic novel that highlights the horrors and tragedies of World War 1. Paul Baumer, an 18-year-old German soldier is our main protagonist in the novel. Throughout the novel, we see Paul grow into a changed version of his old self. One challenge that Paul faces is when he goes home on leave. This moment highlights the tremendous influence that the war had on Paul and his comrades. This particular challenge highlighted how much the war impacted the ‘Lost Generation’ and how much it changed their lives.
At the age of 18, Paul Baumer and his friends were enlisted for the war with no experience or knowledge of the world around them. They went straight from school to the war. When Paul went home on leave from the front line, he felt like he couldn’t connect with anything or anyone. He felt as if he couldn’t fit in with the society he was living in. Nothing felt right to him. This was a huge challenge that Paul had to try and overcome to be able to carry on and fight to live through the battle at the front line. This moment in the novel, made us as the readers feel empathy for Paul. He felt isolated in his own home. He felt like he couldn’t talk to anyone about his experiences and he knew that it would become too much for him emotionally if he did. Paul shoes great vulnerability during this moment as we can picture ourselves how lost he was at this hard time in his life.
Remarque uses this challenge in AQWF to highlight the author’s purpose to us readers. When Paul goes home on leave, we not only see the changed version of Paul, but we see a desensitized version of himself. We can paint a picture in our minds of how different Paul would have been coming back to a life that feels completely different from him. While Paul is in his old bedroom, he looks through dozens of his old books and realizes that the words in them don’t speak to him like they used to. He puts them back onto the shelf and says ‘nevermore’. This scene shows the theme of ‘the horror of war’ because we see how much Paul has changed throughout the novel. “At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had only been in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here anymore, it is a foreign world.”- Paul Baumer. Paul realizes that he will never be the same person as he once was. The books, the people, his room, the town, don’t connect to him the same way that they used to.
During the novel, Remarque includes important flashbacks to when Paul was back home living his normal life. These include when Paul did not know what he was getting himself into enlisting for the war. This showed how neieve and innocent Paul was before he went into the war. The war changed Paul and his comrades by isolating them from normal society and by completely seperating them from their old lives. The challenge of Paul going home on leave helps him realize that the people back home, didnt realize the pain, torture and horror that being at war was really like. Paul’s generation feels unwanted and unneeded. Remarque had Paul die to emphasise that the war has already killed the best part of him. His actual death is anti-climatic. Almost like an afterthought, as if it doesn’t even matter. The horror of war damaged him too much. They are ‘The lost or destroyed generation of men.’
The challenge of Paul going home on leave helps us understand Paul better because we can understand that the war had an incrediable toll and affect on not only the men that fought but their families and innocent civilians. The young men that went into the war had nothing to come back to. No jobs, no money and no life. They didnt know what to do with themselves when they returned home. Paul helped show the innocence of the young men that fought in the war and he highlighted how much people can change due to the events they have faced.