Question: Describe a conflict faced by a character or individual in a written text you have studied.
Explain how the author conveyed the conflict.
War corrupts human life. Erich Maria Remarque’s classic anti-war novel, ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ is a harsh depiction of war. Our narrator, Paul Baumer––a young German soldier in The Great War. Paul faces internal conflict as a result of how the war has changed him. Remarque uses Paul and his experiences to express his message, ‘The Lost Generation’ Remarque uses Paul to represent the generation lost in the war.
Erich Maria Remarque, originally Erich Paul Remark, was born in Osnabtück in Northern Germany. Remarque––until then educated in Catholic Schools––was 16 when The Great War started. Called up on the 26th of November 1916, Remarque was sent to train at Caprivi barracks (changed to Klosterberg for the novel). When stationed at the battle of Passchendale, he was wounded by British shell splinters. He was taken to a military hospital in Duisburg, he stayed as a clerk for a while after recovering. While he was training in Osnabrück, the war ended. When Hitler and the Nazis came into power, Remarque, deprived of his citizenship and his books burned, moved to America. Remarque—now living in Switzerland—published several other works before he died on 25th September 1970.
Remarque uses Paul’s trip home to show how much the war has changed him and his conflict with that fact. While in his room, Paul goes through the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). Remarque does this for the purpose to show that Paul is struggling to accept the way he feels. He is trying to convince himself Bargaining is used to articulate that Paul finally accepts the fact that he has changed, “Slowly I place the books back in the shelves. Nevermore. Quietly, I go out of the room.” He has tried to accept it by saying “nevermore” it suggests to the reader that he is lost and wants his old life back. Remarque conveys Paul’s conflict using that all his things aren’t the same as before the war and he feels disconnected from them. In this scene, Remarque demonstrates a keen insight into how the human mind works and reacts. His intent was to express the theme of ‘The Lost Generation’ through Paul’s internal conflict. Remarque uses Paul to symbolise the many soldiers from the war that went home feeling the same way.
Paul’s room gives Paul a glimpse into his old life. Effectively, this scene is used by Remarque to emphasize his inner conflict. Paul realises that things in his room no longer speak to him like they used to. He knows at this point that he can never go back to the way it used to be. Paul says “With my eyes I implore them: speak to me — speak to me up — take me up — take me up again, you old Life — you carefree, wonderful life — take me up again”, Remarque uses a capital letter for ‘Life’ to personify it, treating it as if it were a person, the person he was or could have been, this is who he is grieving for. This conflict inside Paul is articulated by Remarque in this way to make the reader understand how he is feeling.
Paul cannot tell his family about his experiences as he feels isolated from them. Remarque cleverly uses Paul’s father to show this gap and Paul’s conflict. Paul’s father wants him to wear his uniform, while Paul wants to wear his regular clothes. “My mother is pleased to see me wearing civilian clothes; it makes me less strange to her. But my father would rather I kept my uniform on so that he could take me to visit his acquaintances. But I refuse.” Here Remarque is highlighting the fact that Paul doesn’t feel comfortable with wearing his uniform, his father however sees it as something to show off. Paul doesn’t see it this and he thinks his father is ignorant for believing so. “[talking about his father]He wants me to tell him about the front; he is curious in a way that I find stupid and distressing; I no longer have any real contact with him.” Paul no longer feels connected with his father, the war has produced conflict for him. He is still trying to sort everything out in his head and his father just wants him to tell stories. Remarque believes that this is an important idea for us to understand as it shows insight into Paul’s inner conflict.
Paul repeats the word “mother” several times. Remarque reminds the reader that Paul is really still a boy who longs to return to who he was before the war but can’t. “I can go no further–mother, mother, Paul is here.” Paul reacts to the way his sister announced his visit as he doesn’t feel like Paul anymore. He is not the same as he was and he is conflicted, she has said his name like he was the same. War has changed him and, in many ways, he is “older” than his parents, who believe in propaganda and hearsay. His father wanting him to wear his uniform is a clue–he is ignorant. Paul wants to become himself again, he is conflicted between his old and new lives. He wishes to be a child again. In this passage, he comforts his mother but he wishes someone would comfort him.
War destroyed an entire generation. When Paul goes on leave, Remarque shows his conflict about his disconnect from civilian life. From the effects of the war, Paul has become desensitized to suffering and knows only death which causes him to be conflicted between his old and new selves. After the war, there is nothing for him to go back to because of this he is part of ‘The Lost Generation’. Lost in the sense that he has lost touch with civilization. Remarque’s classic anti-war novel ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ tells the tale of men ruined by the war. War has destroyed their souls, leaving an empty husk.