World Literature: All Quiet on the Western Front and of Mice and Men
HL English: World Literature Assignment
7 November 2014
The Irony of Of Mice and Men and All Quiet on the Western Front
Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front takes place on a war ground where the French and Germans battle, yet John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men takes place on a ranch where two men travel together looking for work. The plots of both stories may sound different, but they relate in ways of irony, innocence, and thoughtfulness. John Steinbeck and Erich Maria Remarque use irony, imagery, and figurative language to show the considerable bonding between the main characters as they accompany each other every step of the way through their troublesome journeys.
Main characters faced violent tragedies from both stories. Ironically, Paul and Lennie from both stories met death by the pulling of a trigger from someone who was not an enemy. “His hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again.” (Steinbeck 106) After all that George and Lennie have been through, George had the nerve to put a bullet straight through Lennie’s head. “He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face and expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.” (Remarque 296) Even though Paul was killed by a comrade, he was glad that it was all over with. He died an honorable death, knowing he served for his country and tried to support for the other.
Both novels involved mice and rats, the rats being from All Quiet on the Western Front. The mice in Of Mice and Men died innocently due to the fact that Lennie kept petting them too hard as he received them from his Aunt Clara, but the rats from All Quiet on the Western Front died intentionally, yet innocently; the men of the raid shelter thought the rats to be a “burden,” so they deployed all preventions possible against these creatures. “Lady, huh? Don’t even remember who that lady was. That was your own Aunt Clara. She stopped givin’ ‘em to ya. You always killed ‘em.” (Steinbeck 9) Lennie has a habit and a like to feel soft things, but Lennie doesn’t always know what to think of whenever it comes to feeling soft things. This is also the reason why he and George had to find work somewhere else, for innocently touching a young lady’s dress. “Then the torches switch on and every man strikes at the heap, which scatters with a rush. The result is good. We toss the bits of rat over the parapet and again lie in wait.” (Remarque 102) The rats were roaming around and eating the soldiers’ food, but they didn’t know any better to not eat their food, causing them to be a burden. So the soldiers used techniques to kill the rats, according to the quote.
Remarque and Steinbeck both use a wide variety of imagery in their novels. Most of it relates to the scenery of the main characters, or to the animals in both stories like the Candy’s dog from Of Mice and Men, and the rats from All Quiet on the Western Front. In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck repeatedly describes the progression of dusk, syncopated with the onset of a dark ending. “The sun had left the valley to go climbing up the slopes... The light climbed on out of the valley... Only the topmost ridges were in the sun now... The shadow in the valley was blue and soft… The shadow in the valley was bluer, and the evening came fast.” (Steinbeck 1) “The Earth is painted as a living thing that is accosted and then destroyed by bombs and blood. It both comforts and shelters characters from the assault of weapons raining from above. The land is retooled by men to be abrasive, limiting, closed. Witness the scars of trenches dug into otherwise pastoral hills and the skin-cutting barbed wire fencing drawn between lines.” (Remarque 203) As for the relation of animals, Steinbeck uses the character Carlson to describe Candy’s dog’s repulsiveness; no teeth, filled with rheumatism. “That dog ain’t no good to you or anyone else.” (Steinbeck 53) “The rats here are particularly repulsive, they are so fat—the kind we all call corpse-rats. They have shocking, evil, naked faces, and it is nauseating to see their long, nude tails.” (Remarque 102) Remarque uses metaphors to describe the repulsiveness of the rats; “…evil, naked faces…” and “Long, nude tails.”
Both authors use an abundance of similes and symbols to describe actions by the characters, or to describe looks and appearances of characters, and also the objects or “injuries” in this case follow each character throughout the stories. “…drank with long gulps, snorting into the water like a horse.” “Slowly, like a terrier who doesn’t want to bring a ball to its master…” “The sun square was on the floor now, and the flies whipped through it like sparks.” (Steinbeck 3) “…a stern little man in a grey tailcoat, with a face like a shrew mouse.” “His features have become uncertain and faint, like a photographic plate from which two pictures have been taken.” (Remarque 57) The use of similes adds more emphasis to the stories, rather than blatantly pointing out the characters or objects with no emotion at all. As for symbolism, Steinbeck uses his characters’ injuries to represent being handicapped. Throughout the story, four of the characters are considered handicapped; Candy is missing a hand, Crooks has a crooked spine, Lennie is mentally slow, and Curley acquires a mangled hand in the course of the novel. Other than the cripples, there is the game of solitaire that George likes to play. George is often in the habit of playing solitaire, a card game that requires only one person, while he is in the bunk house. But for All Quiet on the Western Front, the major symbol used throughout the story was Kemmerich’s boots. They are English airman's boots of soft yellow leather that reach to the knee and lace up all the way. The boots become a symbol of the spirit of comradeship that enables the men of Second Company to endure the horrors of trench warfare. Before he dies, Kemmerich bequeaths them to Mṻller. When Mṻller is fatally wounded, he passes them on to Paul. Steinbeck and Remarque both use many similes to describe the odd actions by some characters and to describe the appearances of people themselves by relating them to animals or inanimate objects, but both authors use metaphors in different ways; Steinbeck uses his through the handicapped characters of the story, like Lennie’s mental handicap and Candy’s missing hand. Remarque, on the other hand, uses Kemmerich’s boots as a symbol to show how they’ve become a spirit of comradeship between the men of the Second Company.
The authors of both novels have a good use of literary terms that apply to almost every character and inanimate object throughout the stories. Both the author’s purposes to write these novels was to show the strong relationship between the main characters, whether they were comrades of a military company or just a partner to travel and work with. It is very tragic pertaining to what happens with the main characters, but they thought it was for their own good and everyone else’s.
Word Count: 1,229
Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. Trans. By A. W. Wheen. New York:
Glencoe McGraw-Hill, 2000. Print.
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. Print.