All Quiet on the Western Front Symbolism, Imagery & Allegory Iron - In the book we hear the term "The Iron Youth" used to describe Paul's generation. "The Iron Youth" is an ideal of a strong Fatherland-lovin' group of young soldiers who enlist and fight in the war as a way of showing pride for Germany and its history. The author and characters in the book tear this ideal apart, feeling it to be useless and empty when compared with the realities of war. These young soldiers are not made of "iron," but of flesh and blood. The term "iron" would suggest they are protected emotionally and physically against all weapons of war, but this book proves to us that that is completely false. Lives melt away in the arms of this violent war.
Iron is also a key element of the weapons used in the war, reminding us that this is an element that kills rather than protects. There are stakes made of iron that are used on soldiers' graves, sad statements of the deaths of fine young men. When the Kaiser (the German emperor) shows up, he gives out Iron Crosses as rewards for heroism in battle. The River - The guys gather at the river's edge and swim naked across to a home apparently rented by a bunch of French women. The river is a natural break between the land of brutality and gunshots and the land of…well, good stuff. Rivers are important in the world of literature. We sit up and pay attention whenever one appears, mostly because one of the most famous rivers of all time has to do with death – that is, the River Styx. In Greek mythology, the River Styx formed the border between the land of the living and the land of the dead. Lots of mythological figures got into trouble trying to swim from one shore to another. We could think of this river as the separating Paul and his friends from a world of peace and love. The river is an actual boundary, remember? The soldiers aren't legally allowed to cross it, and so they have to sneak across at night.
We also think it is fascinating that this river happens to be the first real body of water we are exposed to in this story. Water is scarce, and that makes sense to us. When we think about water, we think about things like plants, grass, life, slip n' slides, and things that grow. The war that Paul observes is definitely not about such fun things. Kemmerich's Boots - Like the pants in The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (what happened to the pants?!), the boots get passed around. Unfortunately, unlike the denim flavor, these boots kill whoever wears them; or at least whoever wears them dies. They are more sought after than human life and they outlive those who wear them. Müller is the first to yearn for them, eyeing their sturdy soles, while their owner, Kemmerich, dies a long and painful death. Good boots mean healthier feet, which mean a stronger soldier, and a stronger soldier can protect himself against death better than a soldier with blisters and frostbitten toes. The boots allow us to see just how the war turns men into unfeeling beings bent on survival at all costs. Religion - Where there is war, there is death, and where there is lots of death, we would expect a discussion of higher powers and afterlife. However, there aren't many religious symbols to speak of in this story. One would think that with so many lives so close to meeting their Maker, that there would be a good deal of prayer. Instead, there are only a few vague references to The Iron Cross (German award for wartime bravery), and not much else. Why do you think there is so little talk of religion in this book?
At times it would seem that the earth itself becomes the higher power that grounds the soldiers and that keeps them sane. As Paul gains more experience on the Front, he begins to consider war and death more carefully. He searches for meaning in the world around him, and we get a crystal clear view of this search. We watch him wrestle with the hell he exists in on a day-to-day basis, and we watch him grasp for...
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