“Men may have escaped the shells of battle but were often destroyed by war” How is this idea explored in the novel? “All Quiet on the Western Front” written by Erich Maria Remarque explores the idea that men have escaped the shells of battle but were often destroyed by war. Remarque presents the changes in Paul and his friends and by displaying the sense of isolation the men feel after the war by using a range of techniques. Remarque displays the changes in Paul and his friends by showing how the boys were once school boys who had an education and a future but war extinguished all innocence and hope for a future.
The boys begin as an innocent class of twenty young men have the belief that war would be a glorious experience. “…Our heads were full of nebulous ideas which cast an idealized, almost romantic glow over life and even the war…” (p. 15)This enables the reader to comprehend how much of an impact the opinion of the older generation had. Remarque uses the technique of inclusive language “When we came out here we were cut off, whether we like it or not, from everything we had done up to that point. ” (p. 4) to reveal the universal suffering of the men. When Paul returns home he realises that only those who experienced the war would truly understand the effect the war had on the individual. When Paul’s Mother talks to him about the war she tries to understand what Paul is suffering but Paul realises she truly has no idea. “She says ‘with the gas and all the rest of it’. She doesn’t know what she is saying…” (p. 116) This further destroys the men as they as no one truly understands what they’re feeling.
Remarque continues to use metaphors during the text to demonstrate how the boys’ outlook on life has changed dramatically. “…The war has ruined us for everything… We are no longer young men. We’ve lost any desire to conquer the world. We are refugees. We are fleeing from ourselves. From our lives. ” (p. 63) this quote emphasises how the war has killed everything inside of them that ever hoped for a future because the boys cannot literally flee from their lives. ‘We are refugees’ maintains the point that they will never be able to escape from the war and its effects.
Lastly the metaphor “an abyss of suffering” finalises the amount of pain, grief and suffering the boys will face for the rest of their lives. On the surface it appears that the war has not impacted Paul and his way life but his struggles are imminent when he returns home on leave. Paul experiences a deep feeling of isolation when he returns home to find himself struggling to reconnect with civilisation. “The scenes existed once- but they will never return. They are gone, they are another world, a world that is in the past for us” (p. 7) This urges the reader to sympathise with Paul as he uses a sad, desperate tone of voice, wishing that he could become part of his old world again. “This sudden confrontation with the civilized world is too much for me. ” (p. 174) This stresses the point that Paul has been away for so long, living in a completely different world of death, despair and fear that he is overwhelmed at the prospect of a clean bed and a proper toilet. When Paul returns home he develops an understanding of how a barrier has built itself between Paul and his old life.
This quote further portrays the isolation Paul feels at home “’You are home, you are home. ’ But there is an awkwardness that will not leave me, I can’t get used to everything yet… There is a veil and a few steps between me and them. ” (p. 115) “Suddenly a terrible feeling of isolation wells up inside me. I can’t get back, I’m locked out; however much I might plead, however much I try… and the past turns away from me. ” (p. 124) Remarque uses the tone of voice and words such as ‘I’ and ‘me’ to conclude that Paul is alone in his suffering and that at this point in time, he has no one to turn to.
The metaphor ‘the past turns away from me’ allows the reader to fully comprehend how strong the barrier is that has formed and how isolated Paul feels when he describes how he feels as if his past is literally turning away from him and leaving him behind in the uncertainty and despair of war. Remarque effectively captured the idea of how although men escaped the shells of battle their lives were destroyed by the war. It reveals how the men evolved from being young and innocent with a family and future to knowing nothing but death and despair and having no hope for a future.