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Essay/Term paper: All quiet on the western front: themes

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Literary Essays

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All Quiet On the Western Front: Themes

All Quiet on the Western Front is a graphic depiction of the horrors of
war. In the short note before Chapter One, Remarque lets the reader know
exactly what themes he intends. War is a savage and gratuitous evil, war is
unnatural, and war is responsible for the destruction of an entire generation.
Remarque is very clear on the strength of his themes, and uses graphic imagery
to convey to the reader the physical and psychological impact that war has on
humanity. But Remarque uses more than graphic description to support his themes.
Remarque also utilizes a very defined nature motif, with the forces of nature
constantly rebelling against the conflict it plays battleground to. With the
Earth itself, the source of all things, supporting his themes, Remarque has a
seemingly unbiased witness bearing testament to his observations. Remarque can
use nature as the judge to condemn war, along with shocking imagery, so that his
literature remains without a trace of nationalism, political ill will, or even
personal feelings.
It should be noted that the nature motif is carried consistently
throughout the novel, and that it supports many of the author's lesser themes.
For the purpose of portraying war as something terrible, though, the nature
motif is expressed most dramatically in the following passages. These passages
mark the three distinct stages of nature's condemnation of war: rebellion,
perseverance, and erasure.
The first passage occurs in Chapter Four when the troops are trucked out
to the front to install stakes and wire. However, the narrator's squad is
attacked unexpectedly by an English bombardment. With no visible enemy to fight,
the soldiers are forced to take cover and live out the bombardment. In the
process, the earth is shredded and blown asunder. It is during this melee that
many of the companies' horses are wounded, and begin to bellow terribly.

"It is unendurable. It is the moaning of the world, it is the martyred creation,
wild with anguish, filled with terror, and groaning."

The bombing subdues, but the bellowing continues.

"The screaming of the beasts becomes louder. One can no longer distinguish
whence in this now quiet silvery landscape it comes; ghostly, invisible, it is
everywhere, between heaven and earth it rolls on immeasurably."

Remarque is none too subtle in using the dying horses as a metaphor for
the Earth's own anguish. As the men face a new horror, nature is revolting
against the damage being done to it. Remarque will return to this usage of the
nature motif, with war being anomalous and unnatural in the "natural" world. At
the first sign of war, a disturbance in the Earth's eternal peace, nature rebels.
"...it is the earth itself raging."

The next passage is found in Chapter Six, where the protagonists have
experienced constant battle for many days.

"The brown earth, torn, blasted earth, with a greasy shine under the sun's rays;
the earth is the background of this restless, gloomy world of automatons..."

The seemingly hapless and helpless nature can now only persevere. Earth plays
the role of the victim, impotent to the forces that mutilate it. Whereas in the
first passage, nature accuses man for his aberrance, and reacts violently, but
ineffectually, against that which torments it. Now, however, nature is silent.
It endures, waiting for the unnatural phenomena to pass.
The final passage is more subtle than the two prior. It is found in
Chapter Six, during the calm after a massive struggle. The dead are present
everywhere, and the earth is marred with innumerable craters. It is in this
quiet that the narrator makes the following observation:

"My hands grow cold and my flesh creeps; and yet the night is warm. Only the
mist is cold, this mysterious mist that trails over the dead and sucks from them
their last, creeping life. By morning they will be pale and green and their
blood congealed and black."

Once again, Remarque uses metaphors with notable success. The mist,
which behaves abnormally, is the manifestation of nature. Nature is slowly and
quietly erasing the traces of its former anguish. In this instance, nature is
at work decaying the dead; beginning the relentless process of repairing itself.
This final stage in nature's condemnation of war can be seen consistently
throughout Chapter Eleven, where the war toils on, but the seasons pass
indifferently as the dead pile up. Nature's victory can be seen as the simple
ability to outlast its tormentors. The novel ends with the war's conclusion,
and at the same time, the rejuvenation of the Earth in those tortured regions.
What then does Remarque accomplish by demonstrating these three stages?
Staying consistent with his themes, Remarque is emphasizing the horrors and
pointlessness of war. But where Remarque uses vivid and horrific imagery to
make clear the former, the latter is clearly supported in his nature motifs. By
observing the three stages above, the reader realizes the insignificance of war.
Nature is above it, and greater than any war. Despite the immeasurable impact
the war had on those involved, it was but a minor disturbance to the forces of
nature. The dead decay and the earth mends itself. All traces of the carnage
are erased, and although the war is history for humanity, for nature, the source
of life, it has passed.
Remarque has then accomplished his goal in writing the novel. His theme
of condemning war as a gratuitous act of savagery is fully supported with
accurate and shockingly graphic imagery. War being both unnatural and
unnecessary (and ultimately, insignificant) is expressed clearly with the
consistent nature motifs. And while the reader is in the state of suspended
disbelief, these themes will be conveyed to him with alarming clarity. It is at
this moment that Remarque has truly succeeded. The successful utilization of
the nature motifs have given All Quiet on The Western Front a voice and emotion
all of its own. This voice compels and influences the reader; for those
immersed in Remarque's haunting novel, war has lost its glory, its grandeur, and
its meaning.


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