The Transformation of a Man through War in
Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front
"I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another (263)." Powerful changes result from horrifying experiences. Paul Baumer, the protagonists of Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front utters these words signifying the loss of his humanity and the reduction to a numbed creature, devoid of emotion. Paul's character originates in the novel as a young adult, out for an adventure, and eager to serve his country. He never realizes the terrible pressures that war imposes on soldiers, and at the conclusion of the book the empty shell resembling Paul stands testament to this. Not only does Paul lose himself throughout the course of the war, but he loses each of his 20 classmates who volunteered with him, further emphasizing the terrible consequences of warfare. The heavy psychological demands of life in the trenches and the harsh reality of war strip Paul of his humanity and leave him with a body devoid of all sentiment and feeling.
Remarque introduces Paul at the beginning of the novel as a veteran. We never see his first days in combat, but we do see comparable experiences in the battles of the replacement soldiers. Paul comments in the beginning on the secrets to staying alive in the trenches by learning the skill of differentiating between the different kinds of shells by the sounds that they make. He can distinguish between gas shells, trench mortars, and long range artillery by saying, "That was a twelve-inch, you can tell by the report. Now you'll hear the burst (52)." and imparts this key knowledge to the recruits. These actions exemplify Paul's character at the beginning of the novel. He cares about the other soldiers and uses...
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