All Quiet on the Western Front, written in 1929 by Erich Maria Remarque, is superficially the story of one soldiers’ journey in World War 1 and his eventual death. Beneath this, however, Remarque has composed a literary treasure which, above all, seeks to illustrate war as that which is engrained in the nucleus of humanity and through the hugely negative effects of war depicted, seeks to question humanities apparent advancement through its need to engage in such a futile exercise as war. Remarque’s Liberal Humanist ideology is given expression through the correlation between war and nature, thus emphasizing the innate position of war within man, the ultimate paradox contained within an advanced mankind engaging in primitive conflicts and the ironic search for an omniscient being derived from man’s reduction to the barest quest for survival. In addition through the examination of the negativities surrounding the social institutions and hierarchies set up in the absence of god, All Quiet on the Western Front becomes much more than an emotive and well constructed piece of historical realism. In All Quiet on the Western Front, the connections between war and the natural surroundings in which it is fought give rise to the position of war the collective psyche of mankind. The military jargon of the ‚the white puffs of smoke from the tracer bullets‛ is followed by the natural imagery of ‚the sun shining on them‛ in order to emphasize the apparent synchronization between war and nature. The colour imagery of white of the bullets and yellow of the sun, being light colours, connote the harmonious relationship between nature and war. Through the proximity of phrases describing both war and nature in an endearing fashion we are led to conclude that war and nature, or that which is primitive, are fundamentally linked. The gaian imagery ‚Earth, with your ridges and holes and hollows into which a man can throw himself , where a man can hide‛ is ironic as it takes a man-made irrationality, war, to bring about appreciation of the ever-present naturality that is Earth. The repetition of ‚the red poppy‛, an example of colour and olfactory imagery, connotes the recurrence in war of that which the red poppy historically symbolizes, death yet perpetuation. In addition, the ability of the red poppy to lie dormant in the soil for years before sprouting is congruous to the aptitude for the capability to make war to lie quiescent within human nature yet only surface periodically. Thus it can be understood that Remarque positions the reader to understand, through its relation to nature, war as that which is imbued in humanity. The natural imagery ‚heads and rifles stick out from the white mists‛ gives rise to that which often acts as a catalyst for war. The mist connotes a lack of clarity or vagueness and the fact that rifles, symbolic of war, protrude from this leads to the inference that war is often illogical as it arises from uncertainty. Moreover, the fact that heads, emblematic of vulnerability due to its medically vital nature, obtrude from the confusion shows that it is the vulnerable and | Adam Solomon | Page 4 |
primal component of the individual that leads them into war rather than the evolved, developed part which ironically is also found within the skull yet is apparently subservient to raw instinct. The visual imagery with a cosmic slant ‚I see the stars and I see the rockets...and for a moment I imagine I am at home in the garden, blissfully‛ seek to ultimately differentiate between hostilities and happiness, thus illustrating Remarque’s opposition to war. The desensitization and perversion of the speaker to the point where both stars and rockets in the night sky are considered nothing more than routine shows how war has the ability to affect the elemental fabric of man. Through the juxtaposition of the idyllic garden, connoting the lighter side of nature, and the devilish war, signifying the dark depths of human temperament, it...
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