imagery In The All Quiet On The Western Front
World War One was a global tragedy that sparked in Europe due to hostility between nations. It was one of the deadliest wars in history with 16 million soldiers dead. While some of these soldiers’ experiences were forgotten, not all were. All Quiet on the Western Front describes the horrors of war from the perspective of a German soldier, Paul Bäumer. Having been a World War One veteran himself, the author, Erich Maria Remarque, provides an interesting insight to war from a soldier’s point of view. In All Quiet on the Western Front, Remarque utilizes the symbol of he the iron cross as well as imagery when describing scenes from the war to demonstrate the how the war degraded the soldiers’ beliefs and values about the war.
One way Remarque imparts his message about the effect of war on soldiers’ beliefs and values is through the use of symbolism, specifically the iron cross. While Paul, the narrator, and protagonist of the story, and his company are fighting in the war, they are called back to be presented to the Kaiser. The Kaiser distributes iron crosses, a symbol to Paul of everything that is wrong with war. The ceremony is short lived however as all the fancy new equipment and uniforms are returned. After all of this, Kropp questions, “we are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now who’s in the right?’ (Remarque 203). Here, Remarque uses the symbol of the iron cross to describe Paul’s frustration with the war. Paul and his friends have been forced into war and must act as though they are made of iron, when in fact they are just as vulnerable as anyone else, if not more as they are just young men. However, the Kaiser gives out the iron crosses as an award for exemplary behavior during the war despite Paul and his friends realizing there is no glory in war. Through this quote, readers see a shift in the beliefs of the soldiers. While they had always been told that the French were the enemy, they start to believe that the Kaiser and other leaders are the true enemies as they are subjugating ideals they themselves are not willing to fight for. Paul and his friends had always been taught that fighting was honorable and that they must “protect [their] fatherland” by teachers of war ideals. However, fighting on the front lines changed the soldiers as they start to not believe in the glorification of war any longer. They can no longer distinguish “who’s in the right” as they see all the atrocities committed by both sides during the war. They realize that war is not what it was taught to be and no longer believe in it.
Remarque also utilizes imagery based off of his own experiences as a soldier to relay his message of the effects of war on soldiers beliefs and values unto readers. When out on a mission on the front, Paul and his comrades are caught in the midst of a bombardment. They are not alone however as a group of horses was also caught in the crossfire. Their death is vividly ingrained in the readers’ minds through Remarque’s use of imagery. Paul narrates the scene saying, “Those are the wounded horses. But not all of them. Some gallop away in the distance, fall down, and then run on farther. The belly of one is ripped open, the guts trail out. He becomes tangled in them, and falls, then he stands up again.” (Remarque 63). The group, Detering in particular, is enraged and they start to realize that harm caused by war is not limited to the soldiers. This imagery evokes a feeling of sympathy towards the innocent lives lost in the war, including the soldiers as well as the animals. Similar to the horses’ guts, the soldiers’ lives have been “ripped” away from them and they are no longer able to experience the apexes of their lives since they are so young. They feel as hopeless as the wounded horses as they “became tangled” in the web of lies set forth by leaders and do not truly believe in those ideals. They no longer believe in the war as they see how civilians and animals are at risk too.
Through his use of imagery and symbols, Remarque conveys a message about the effect of war on soldiers beliefs and values. This message about the savagery of war, cowardice of leaders, and the conditions which the soldiers are subjected to and forced to kill others leading to changes in their beliefs and values still reigns true today with wars in the Middle East being fought. Soldiers there, some of whom are children, are forced to join the Taliban and other forces, and fight for ideals they do not believe in like Paul and his comrades. As a society, we need to do more to create peace initiatives, and sadly if peace cannot be attained, his message of how deleterious war can be will reign true for generations to come.
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