GERM 1025/1026 Essay #3
Due Date: December 10 (to be placed in my mailbox, #61, on the 1st floor of McCain by noon)
Thesis Due Date: November 30 (to be emailed to [email protected] and/or to your tutorial leader; students whose first language is Mandarin may also want to email their thesis statements to Michelle Lee at [email protected])
Length: approximately 1,500 words
Here are some possible essay questions. Choose one. You are allowed to come up with your own questions, although I would like you to clear it with me first. Essays should be around four pages (not including the title page or bibliography). Your essay should have an introductory paragraph that closes with a proper and specific thesis statement, paragraphs organized around topics that reinforce your thesis, and a strong concluding paragraph.
For this essay I want you to use at least three critical, peer-reviewed sources, so check with the library and with me to find the most appropriate books and/or articles. For books, the website Novanet provides a complete listing of all books and journals held by universities in Nova Scotia. For articles, the website JSTOR (which is free to access as Dalhousie students) provides thousands of articles on numerous subjects. Note: Internet sources such as Wikipedia, Douban, SparkNotes, and CliffsNotes are not critical sources. Please ask me if you have any questions about the validity of a source.
When it comes to the use of critical sources, I want you to use the critics to aid your argument, but not to supplant it. Sometimes you may agree with the critic, but your argument is often enhanced by having an opinion to spar against. Be specific, focus in on key scenes or elements, and make sure that your argument is well supported with evidence and quotations from the works. When it comes to quoting from the text, comment on the quotes you use and do not simply allow them to speak for themselves. If you have any questions while writing your essays, or if you would like me to see rough drafts, please let me know.
Thesis statements: please email me your thesis statements by November 26th. This is just for me to make sure that you are on the right path with your paper and that you have had a chance to come up with a clear, coherent, and concise argument that can be pursued in an essay. I will give feedback on this, as I want to make sure that everyone does a good job with the question and that finds a good angle with which to pursue it. Note: while the thesis is not due until the 30th, I very much encourage you to email it to me as soon as you are ready. The more time you have to work on your paper with the proper feedback, the better it will no doubt turn out.
- Educaion is a central them in Remarque’s novel. This novel is suffused with the sense that the younger generation has been misled and tricked by the older generation into fighting a war with no purpose. Discuss the role of education and miseducation in the novel, be it in school, at basic training, or on the battlefield. One way to possibly handle this is to contrast the teachers and parents with Kat, but this is only one possibility. Another might be to look at the hostility that Paul and his friends have not for the French, but for the Germans in power who have pushed them into this conflict.
- Gertrude Stein once famously referred to the young men who went off to fight in WWI as a lost generation. How might this idea be applied to Paul and his friends? In what ways have they been altered irrevocably by the war? One scene worth keeping in mind is Paul’s furlough back home, which raises the possibility of his ever being able to truly go home. Another possibility could be to consider the circumstances of Remarque following the war (here you would need to use critical/biographical sources). In what ways do the young men in particular seem to fear the end of the war as much as they do the war itself. Likewise, in what ways does the novel reflect Remarque’s desire to tell the story of those who, even if they escaped the shells, were destroyed by the war? If All Quiet on the Western Front is a Bildungsroman, what growth does Paul show or is able to show?
- Remarque’s novel supports, in many ways, William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous quote that war is hell. In what ways does the novel manage to do this? How is the new technology of war – machine guns, gas, tanks, heavy shells – contributing to this hellish experience? In what ways does war make those who fight both see their enemies as human but also act in inhuman ways themselves? There are many scenes to consider in respect to this, but one scene that could potentially serve as a compelling contrast is Paul’s scene in the trench with the dead French soldier. Another scene worth considering is Kantorek’s letter and the soldiers’ reaction to it.
- While war certainly can bring out the worst in us, Remarque is equally interested in how, paradoxically, it can also bring out the best. How is comradeship explored in the novel? Look at Paul’s friendship with his fellow soldiers. How has war created a bond between these young men that peace never could? Paul’s friendship with Kat is another relationship worth exploring in respect to this question. Likewise, the scene with the goose dinner explicates this theme quite strongly, as does the scene in which Paul is trapped in Chapter 9.
- Irony is ever present in Remarque’s novel, from the lies told by hypocrites pushing young men to war to the very title itself. How is irony explored in the novel? Scenes of particular interest could be Paul’s time in the trench with the dead French soldier, Paul’s return home, Kat’s death, and the novel’s final moments. Another angle might be to consider this novel as a kind of Bildungsroman, chronicling the growth the spiritual maturity of its hero, Paul, that nevertheless ends the way that it ends.
- Discuss the novel in terms of the actual historical period that Remarque is depicting. Note here that while the question is broad, your response to it must be very specific, i.e. you must pick a very particular battle, feature of the war, etc., in your discussion. How does the novel compare to the actual history? In what ways is it accurate? If inaccurate, to what ends?
The Hellish Nature of War as brought out by Erich Maria Remarque
War is one of the most terrifying and sickening incidents which has happened throughout the historical times. The First World War had devastating effects noted by civilians, including soldiers at a war. Some of the conditions suggesting the hellish nature of war include the piles of dead bodies, diseases, instances of malnutrition, and fear among the people. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque is one of the literary works providing an insight into the horrors of war noted after the close of the First World War. The work of Remarque unveils a journal into the conditions defining the hellish nature of war while exploring the darkness and the depressive conditions facing the affected people. Remarque’s novel reiterates William Tecumseh Sherman’s words associating war with hell. Although Remarque romanticizes war while emphasizing on notions such as honor, glory and patriotic duty, it also constitutes fear and meaningless deaths and blood spill which equates it to hell.
The Hellish Nature of War
The horror associated with war is an overriding theme in All Quiet on the Western Front. The theme depicts the hellish nature of war which informs different scenes in the novel. Gauging from the manner in which war is experienced in the novel, it is clear that the act is associated with unnecessary butchery which constitutes fear among the people. The First World War influenced how man understood military conflict as a result of the devastating level of violence and carnage noted during the war (Helleiner, 2014). The violence and battles noted during the First World War period as depicted by Remarque lasted for months driving fear among the people.
The situation was worsened by the gruesome technological development which intensified the war. Arguably, new technological developments foresaw the establishment of machine guns, trenches and poison gas which could result to greater causalities when employed during the war (Gref, 2010). Additionally, the employment of such technologies made killings more impersonal and easier in comparison to the past (Adas, 2014). Remarque’s works dramatizes these First World War aspects, thus bringing about the savagery associated with the war with a relentless focus being established on the psychological and physical damage noted in the process. Towards the end of Remarque’s novel, almost every primary character is dead. The high rate of the loss of lives noted in the process epitomizes the impact of the war and the impact it has on the young generation forced to take in the war.
The war constitutes grave impacts on the soldiers. In All Quiet on the Western Front, it is evident that the soldiers who took part in the war faced devastating effects. Arguably, the soldiers were subjected to constant physical dangers since their lives were always at a threat. In most cases, they could potentially be blown into pieces. The physical threat level facing the soldiers was intense since the unceasing attack prompted fear on the people forcing most of the men at war to face fear. Moreover, the soldiers were forced to live in undesirable conditions while at war. Remarque defines the environment in which the soldiers lived in as filthy (Erich Maria, 1975). Clearly, the ditches where they considered their home were full of rats and were clogged with water increasing the potential that they could fall ill. Moreover, the ditches were also infested with lice and decaying corpses.
The soldiers at war were also forced to go without food in several instances. Having access to important basic commodities such as medical care and clothing was not possible for the soldiers. Even in events when the soldiers lost their close friends or immediate relatives, they were not provided with a chance to mourn their loss, thus posing drastic psychological impacts. In most cases, the soldiers had no option but to express their pain and grief in a violent manner. According to Remarque, the general effect of the conditions evident during the war period was crippling resulting to despair and panic. The only way that the soldiers could survive is by disconnecting themselves fully from their feelings and from themselves. This meant that the soldiers had to suppress their emotions and accept the conditions defining their lives at war. The disjoint meant that the men at war were going through a form of psychological pain and torture as a result of the war.
Drawing from Remarque’s perspective, the emotional disconnect which the soldiers faced was a form of destruction to the humanity of the soldiers (Erich Maria, 1975). Considering the case of Paul Baumer in All Quiet on the Western Front, it is evident that the character was strongly tied to the war. He could not imagine how life could be like without the war. Additionally, Paul could not recall how he felt before he became a soldier at war. Moreover, Paul lost his ability to communicate to the members of his family. Considering the case suggesting that the men at war could not mourn the case of their fallen friends and peers, Remarque brings about the case of Kemmerich on a deathbed. Despite the fact that this character was dying, the fundamental question that the characters were considering was the people who were going to inherit his personal belongings. However, among the living soldiers, Remarque suggests the fact that the soldiers share a strong bond defined by friendship and loyalty (Erich Maria, 1975). The unique relationship comes about as a result of the experience that the soldiers share during the war. Debatably, the feelings are the only romanticized elements in Remarque’s fictional piece. Moreover, the feelings are considered as the only form of emotions which preserves the fundamental humanity of the soldiers.
The war makes the soldiers consider their enemies as humans despite the fact that they behave in inhumane ways. This is evident as the war is glorified as a means of protecting one’s motherland. The glorification of war as evident in the novel is what gets the protagonist, Paul into the army in the first place. It is evident that Paul’s teacher managed to convince him to be one of the soldiers during the war based on the fact that he believed that war was an expression of love. In the novel, it is evident that Paul meditates on the issue in several instances. For instance, he explores the fact that soldiers fighting in the war are the ones exposed to a threat as most of them loose their lives while those being served after starting the wars do not feel the great impact of the noted wars. Before being considered as fit to be effective soldiers at war, the young men in the community were forced to go through torture and pain during the war. In chapter 2 of All Quiet on the Western Front, it is evident that Paul indicates that the soldiers had to be exposed to environments where they could undergo difficult conditions forcing them to harden. Through the use of Muller’s concern regarding Kemmerich’s boot as an example, it is evident that the soldier lacks his humanity when he only shows his concern about Kemmerich’s boots rather than showing his compassion since he is on his death bed. Moreover, Paul recalls the drill instructor with a sadistic nature during their training. In addition, a former postman referred to as Himmelstoss also tortured the trainees with exhausting task which were considered senseless. Again, considering how the soldier’s react to Kantorek’s letter, it is evident that the soldiers behave inhumanely. Arguably, Kantorek refers to the soldiers as the “Iron Youth” in his writing while the soldiers consider this fact as hilarious since they are older now. This shows that the soldiers still considers their enemies as human despite the fact that the war forces them to turn off their humanity and cause deaths senselessly.
War is equitable to hell since it depicts the horror of war among the soldiers and the people in the community. In All Quiet on the Western Front, the nationalism idea is strongly critiqued suggesting its hollow nature. Notably, nationalism can be considered as a tool which is utilized by the powerful members of the community to have control of the nation’s populace by inflicting fear among the people through massive blood spill and deaths (Bance, 1987). The relative worthlessness noted in battlefield in the case of patriots such as Himmelstoss and Kantorek have elevated the level of inappropriateness of the ideals of modern warfare. This notion stems from the fact that the soldiers available on the front fight to survive rather than to glorify their nation. As a result, they will consider it important to kill rather than be killed. Gauging from Paul’s perspective, the war acted as an important factor which aided in enhancing the power and glory of a nation during the war.
Conclusively, the work of Remarque upholds war as an important concept which promotes a nation’s glory and honor. Despite this, it brings about meaningless deaths and fear arising from the constant deaths and blood spill, thus creating an environment equated to hell. During war, soldiers are forced to turn off their humanity, live in uncouth conditions, and use technologically advanced equipment which make killing easier than before.
Adas, M. (2014). Ambivalent Ally: American Military Intervention and the Endgame and Legacy of World War I. Diplomatic History, 38(4), 700–712.
Bance, A. F. (1987). German Navels on the First World War and their Ideological Implications, 1918-1933/ Erich Maria Remarque: A Critical Bio-Bibliography/ Im Westen nichts Neues. Modern Language Review, 82(3), 798–801.
Erich Maria, R. (1975). All Quiet on the Western Front. New York: Fawcett Crest.
Gref, L. G. (2010). The Rise and Fall of American Technology. New York: Algora Publishing.
Helleiner, E. (2014). Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods : International Development and the Making of the Postwar Order. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.