Describe at least one challenge faced by a character or individual in the written text. Explain how this challenge helped you to understand the character or individual.
War is dehumanising. Throughout the Novel ‘All Quiet on the Weston Front’ by Erich Maria Remarque, the reader sees a clear insight into the true horrors of war that the soldiers of World War 1 faced. This novel follows Paul Baumer, a young 18-year-old soldier. Paul is used to demonstrate the main themes which are the lost generation and the horrors of war. A challenge Paul is faced with is when he kills Gerard Duval. This changes Paul’s character profusely.
Erich Maria Remarque was born in 1898 and fought in ‘the Great War’—WW1—from 1917 to 1918. He wrote the Novel ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and published it in 1920. When WW2 happened in the 1930s and ’40s, the Nazis burned the book because it was such an anti-war book. The result of this was Remarque being declared ‘undesirable’ by the Nazi regime, and they even went on to execute his sister.
Remarque’s purpose is to show the Lost Generation theme. After Paul takes shelter in a small shell hole, a French soldier—by the name of Gerard Duval—falls into the shell hole with him. Terrified, Paul stabs Gerard until he falls limp. Paul then has to listen to the French soldier die right in front of him. Eventually, Paul gives into his guilt and rushes to help the dying man by giving him water and attempting to clean his wound. Unfortunately, minus Paul’s desperate attempt to save Gerard, he dies. Paul is left in the shell hole with his guilt-ridden thoughts echoing around his head. Remarque uses this scene to show the effect of young soldiers killing men face-to-face in war. Gerard was Paul’s first ever face-to-face kill. Before this, the enemy had no face. Before Paul killed Gerard, the enemy was just silhouettes in the distance. Now, however, it would be impossible for Paul to erase Gerard from his mind. Paul had previously been firing guns mindlessly and he didn’t worry about the affected lives but now he is forever scarred. He is personally connected to Gerard forever. Paul says “he has an invisible dagger to stab me with: my own thoughts.” this metaphor tells the reader that even though Gerard is dead, what Paul did to him will stick with him forever—like a scar. This develops the theme of the lost generation as the men who fought can never go back to normal society. They are too changed by their horrific experiences to ever fully adapt to civilized life. Paul shows empathy and human emotions towards Gerard that he mostly had to shut off to survive in the war. This shows glimpses of who Paul’s character was before the war began. Paul knows that he will never go back to who he was before the war—it would be next to impossible.
Paul et al had to act like savages to survive the harsh conditions of the war. He has been permanently changed by the harsh conditions of war and will never adapt to society again. While Paul is alone in the shell hole, before Gerard is there, Paul thinks “the idea keeps pounding in my brain that if anyone jumps in I’ll stab him immediately.” Paul thinks like this because the war has made him think and act on animal instinct. Remarque wants to inform the reader that the soldiers have zero time for reasoned thought. They have to react the moment that they are in and can’t second think their choices. This shows the lost generation theme. Paul and his friends should be out experiencing first love, partying and doing all the things an 18-year-old should be. Instead, Paul is preparing himself to stab someone to death. In order to survive, they must act like savages. Sadly, if Paul didn’t think this way he would get killed instead. This also demonstrates the horror of war because the men will do anything to survive. This is a horrible way to live.
It is clear in the novel that after Paul kills Gerard, something changes in him. While still in the shell hole with dead Gerard beside him, Paul looks through his things. He sees a photo of Gerard’s family, learns he is a printmaker, and worst of all, Paul sees Gerard’s name. At this moment, Paul gets hit with a wave of guilt. Gerard’s name makes him a person and makes the event of Paul killing human beings real. Paul decides to dedicate his life to looking after Gerard’s family—that’s if he makes it out alive—but he knows it’s just a false promise. Remarque uses this false promise to show the impact Gerard made on Paul’s life. Paul makes the false promise to make killing Gerard seem less bad. He does this to make a ‘good’ thing about his death. Choosing to look at Gerard’s name relates to the horror of war. War turns innocent men into murderers; it leaves their souls crushed. As Gerard was Pauls’s first face-to-face kill, he finally realised the impact killing people has on him. It affects other innocent men’s lives. Consumed with grasping onto living, Paul forgets that the enemy is just like him. This is the true horror of war.
Paul has been changed so much by the war that he can’t even accept the situation he is in. Paul is conflicted after killing Gerard the Frenchman. “My state of mind is getting worse all the time, and I can’t control my thoughts.” Remarque uses this to inform the reader that the soldiers are normal people swept up in the utter chaos that is war. When they were drafted for war, they thought that war was a glorious ‘good thing’ but they could never have been fully prepared for the horrors they faced. Not a single soldier chose the horrific animalistic, deadly lifestyle they found themselves in. Another example of Paul having conflicting thoughts is when he says “forgive me camarade!” over and over again to Gerard. Remarque uses the repetition of Camarade—a word meaning close companion—to show how Paul feels about Gerard. Paul et al have all been brainwashed to hate the enemy but at this moment this is anything but what Paul feels. Paul finally realizes that the opposition are scared, helpless men just like him. This connects to the lost generation because all the men are the same; none of them want to be fighting. Sadly, this is the ugly truth of war—innocent men fighting innocent men. The true enemy of war is the government.
In conclusion, an important challenge Paul faces in the text ‘All quiet on the Western Front’ By Erich Remarque is when he kills Gerard Duval. In this event, the reader gets a detailed insight of Paul’s terrified feelings and guilt-ridden mind even though he is meant to hate the man he just killed. Remarque’s purpose of this event is to show the animal instinct nature of the soldiers in WW1 because of how they are changed by war. Paul’s only mindset is to kill or be killed. Unfortunately, wars still go on—an example being between Russia and Ukraine. Fighting in wars is a complete waste of time; it just leaves soldiers lost, dehumanised and scared.