The famous novel and a movie entitled, “All Quiet on the Western Front” was written by Erich Maria Remarque with the inspiration and embedded storyline environment from World War I. The film brought by Remarque is a perfect demonstration of anti-war campaign from the World War I.
Considering the primary thought that wanted to be emphasized through out the movie, the essential connotation that no victor arises from war and that war, in its very nature, only produces victims and not victors (Gates 2005 23). Remarque includes the discussion on how war can mix friends and enemies together wherein at times, comrades emerged as enemies in the end.
The portrayal of Remarque on the imagery embedded in the environments of war have been critiqued by different scholars (Gates 2005; Kam 1984; Agate 1974) wherein everything sums up to war being the most terrible sensation a man can experience in his life. In the movie, the prime time period is the environment of World War I around 1930s wherein the underlying theme is the justifications of war and the horrors present within (Agate 1972 17).
The film has been criticized to form the basic judgment on how war can distort a person’s perspective with no consideration of age, gender, status in life or any characteristics. Remarque has evidently provided an intensive realistic them to coincide the possible main events embedded in this movie. Within the discussion, the study tackles on the theme of the novel brought by Remarque - All Quiet on the Western Front – wherein the time period coincides in 1930’s, which is the period of World War I.
Discussion Theme, Plot and Background
The most prominent reasons for the novel’s popularity are the fact that it brings together and establish a classic anti-war film wherein the enemy is seen as comrade; the brutalism present in the military is revealed; the slaughter of trench warfare are present; the significant and well exposed betrayal of nation’s youth by adults in exposed glory; the flaws of higher command in fighting for the sake of justice and morality; the suffering of many innocent, such as women and children; death brought by war; and the those men who survived and fought and yet, forgotten (Eberwien 2005 23).
With a little overview of the story, All Quite on the Western Fronts feature the main protagonist, which is Lew Ayres in his main portrayal of a young German soldier who happened to be part of the World War. The story revolves under Lew together with his two friends who volunteered to serve in the front during the war. The driving force that inspires these young men is their belied on their fatherland and the justice they are fighting for (Gates 2005 23).
In the theme of the story, the primary message the Remarque wanted to convey to its readers is the experience of World War I and how it did destroyed several lives of young men. The concentration of Remarque mainly revolves on the concept of war and insurgencies that occurred during that point in time. Remarque also portrayed the aspect of cultural and traditional alteration and modification rendered by war’s nature itself.
He informs his readers that the concept of traditions and bonds sometimes stand up but most of the time, left behind due to the impact of war itself. The mixed emotions of fear, risks, confusion and other emotions settles in, which, in the end, produces the inner instinct of men (Kam 1984 31). All Quiet on the Western Front is an emblem in the field of cinematography in critically exposing and addressing war peace issues at hand during World War I.
Remarque reveals in his novel how war can be a brutal waste ending up with no victor at hand but rather with extreme losses. Remarque also cited the theme of equality among soldiers, which somehow alienates the concept of higher command in the military. Based on Remarque’s portrayal of military life, soldiers get to have their own individual positions during the battlefield (Eberwien 2005 23).
The higher officials get the chance of being in the rear end of the battle positions, while those lower ranks tend to be the sacrifices. From the point of view of Remarque, if interpreted, indicates how useless war can be with every soldiers being left alone with their own strategy to fight for the cause or idealism that have been dictated to them during their training, and yet fades away during the real time battle (Norris 2005 79).
Kam (1984) pointed out the depiction of comradeship by Remarque, which somehow reduced the heaviness brought by the story’s concept. Furthermore, the provisions of friendship reside as the most important theme revealed in the western front by the main characters of the story. Another event from the novel that depict this theme is the dying of Lieutenant Bertinck for his comrades, and the symbolic handling of Kemmerick’s yellow boots, which, if interpreted, reveals how soldiers developed their bonds that are shortened by the fury of war (32).
Another theme portrayed in the movie is the antiwar concept of betrayal wherein the youth, who fought during the war, were betrayed by their teachers, fathers, and by the higher commands that were responsible for instilling the unreasonable ideations of war in their minds. Remarque evidently provided this theme to somehow show how higher officials and those teachers of war can be very much incompetent in applying their own ideation into practice.
Remarque emphasized that higher officials should be treated with equality during the occurrence of war wherein if their men fights, then they too must render their best and stand ground to the principles that they have instilled to the lower ranked soldiers (Eberwien 2005 25). As far as the concept of Remarque is concerned, these higher officials and teachers, and those who instilled the ideas of war in the minds of the youth are the ones to be responsible and to be blamed for their waste.
Himmelstoss, the mild postman, is even transformed into a sadistic drill sergeant and then found to be the most coward at the front; Ginger, the crook, fails to deliver food when the going is rough (Eberwien 2005 25). These are just some of the examples that symbolize what Remarque has been pointing to be as the incompetent higher officials, who may have higher things to say but having difficulties in applying them.
The theme, plot and background of All Quiet on the Western Front indicate the main theme, which is the despising result of World War I. Remarque criticized the point of view of those higher officials and teachers of war conveying the message of stopping the nonsense ideation, and instead, focus on the bright side of peace and organized society wherein all individuals as a human being (Norris 2005 79). The author utilized the perspective of contrast and realistic evaluation to better convey these messages to his audience, which somehow resulted with deeper sense.
Contemporary Literary Criticism: Analysis and Critiques
As for the literary criticisms of Kam (1984), Remarque had indeed utilized two forms of literary styles, particularly the vivid description and imagery, and the maintenance and balancing that he provides in order to distribute the contrasting parts of the scene in order to make both scenarios stand out (33). On the other hand, Norris (2005) argued that the vignettes or representations provided by the soldiers are most appealing symbolism of depopulation, which according to him was utilized by Remarque to imbue the techniques of realism wherein the prime purpose is to convey the concepts and ideas present in the realities of war (78).
As for Kam’s perspective (1984), the style of Remarque relied on his most appealing strategy of converting simple objects, such as pair of boots, goose and a circle of light cast by campfires into unexpected symbolisms that connotes the subject of friendship (35). Aside from the symbolisms Remarque had utilized, Kam also pointed out the contrast style employed by Remarque’s novel.
It is most remarkable to discover that Remarque even hid deeper sense to his novel through the use of these contrasting scenarios in order to convey deeper sense of message to his readers and viewers. The most notable contrast from Paul’s hometown and the front.
Paul’s hometown, in the negative perspective, may have been lacking with the essential supplies, such as food, appropriate and decent shelter, unlike in the front wherein all the luxuries are present. Another is the scenario of hospital wherein people are safe with wounds being tended, clean sheets and regular food, unlike in the front wherein, again, almost all the unimaginable luxuries are available.
The contrast describes the preferable trade of safety and regular food instead of wanted luxuries wherein no safety and ease can be guaranteed (36). Followed by the critiques of Norris (2005), the political scenes implicated in the novel All Quiet on the Western Front had somewhat provided this intense scrutiny on military service, which made Remarque’s work prone to politically inclined critiques.
The novel’s publishers erroneously elevated his rank to lieutenant in their advertisements (Owen 12; cited in Norris 2005 82) and cited medals whose legitimacy has been questioned after the war. Remarque had claimed that a Council for Workers and Soldiers had voted to give him the Iron cross, yet apparently he was reprimanded by the city of Osnabruck in 1919 wearing unearned medals (Norris 2005 82).
In addition to this, critics (Brock and Socknat 1999 362) argued that the legitimacy Remarque’s conscientious objection proved an area of conflict for critics and supporters of Lew Ayres, as did the significance of his actions. Unfortunately, the critiquing committee did not accept the conscientious brought by Lew Ayres. They often defined conscientious objection narrowly as membership in a peace church and sneered at Ayres’s “religion of his own.”
Critics also questioned his use of All Quiet on the Western Front (362). The critics also argued and questioned the center of Remarque’s work wherein the time period focused is only on World War I and yet the message conveyed by the novel tends to generalize the aspects of war in a general perspective. According to Brock and Socknat (199), war did not advocate opposition to all war. “It is too bad the story had this effect on Ayres,” he stated. “I am sure he has made a mistake. I hope we are fighting the last world war and that it will be a war for freedom (362-363).”
The point of Brock and Socknat is the extreme generalization brought by the novelist in his piece with not enough bases as to totally perceive the effects and concepts of war with such generalizations. On the other hand, defenders of Ayres also agreed with his interpretation of his experience in All Quiet on the Western Front. Gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper (cited in Brock and Socknat 1999 363) called the film “one of the greatest documents against war ever put on the screen.” She criticized those who had applauded Ayres’s performance in the film but now condemned him “because in real life he holds to the conviction holds that picture.”
Conclusion In conclusion of the study, the main theme provided in the novel of Erich Maria Remarque is the anti-war perspective during the time period of World War I wherein he criticized the brutality present in the military, the no-victor outcome of the war, senseless ideation conceived and brought by war teachers that are too incompetent to live up to their teachings, and the vast sufferings rendered by war itself. He conveyed his messages through symbolism and contrasting scenarios. On the other hand, the critics have commented on his piece more particularly because of his generalization of war in its very nature considering that he is only pointing out on the events that occurred during World War I.
Agate, James. Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. Ayer Publishing, 1972. Brock, Peter, and Thomas Socknat . Challenge to Mars: Essays on Pacifism from 1918 to 1945. University of Toronto Press, 1999. Eberwein, Robert T. The War Film. Rutgers University Press, 2005. Gates, Tudor. Scenario: The Craft of Screenwriting. Wallflower Press, 2005. Kam, Rose. Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. Barron's Educational Series, 1984. Norris, Margot T. Writing War in the Twentieth Century. University of Virginia Press, 2000.