Character Analysis of all Quiet on the Western Front
When people think of war, it’s depicted as conflict between two nations, which can result in catastrophic damage or death. Change occurs after one side outweighs the other, succeeding in strength and numbers winning the battle. Throughout All Quiet on the Western Front, there has been a change, which many characters have gone through.
In Remarque’s novel, it depicts war and how the effects can cause soldiers to change a state of emotion and characteristic; many of them changing their perception on life. The soldiers that are going through these harsh events seek a way out in order to get away from all the anguish and violence that took place. “It’s a gritty pull-no-punches look at the horrors of war.” (Sauer 1). The paradox that the soldier discovers at war, changes their personality and ideal thoughts that they first had when joining, until later at the end when it’s finally over. All Quiet on the Western Front depicts a true story of war, and how the purest of men can be influenced and changed, due to death and fatality.
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To begin, Paul Bäumer is the main protagonist that takes the reader through the eyes of a German soldier during WWI. In chapter one, Paul’s is describe to readers as a “young man”, who was “quiet and would read and write poetry”. In the movie version, he was portrayed by Lew Ayres; who was a young man with brown eyes and brown hair. The characters role in All Quiet on the Western front was nothing more than a soldier used to patrol and fight in the trenches on the western front that lied besides no man’s land. “We distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of the world left.” (Remarque 13). Turning once a sympathetic and benevolent man, that is eager to help in all needs. To Paul’s character changed due to only seeing death, due to multiple tragic events on the front line. Which later discovers the only way out is death.
Evidently Paul Bäumer dies after years of fighting in October of 1918. It’s ironic due to the war ending days after, having him survive the gruesome of war, but die, not able to live a normal and peaceful life. “I am young, I am twenty years old: yet I know nothing of the life but despair, death, fear and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow.” (Remarque 263). Which turns his persona of a man from compassion to a man eager to leave this earth in order to escape the bloodshed, that occurs when war in the inevitable way to solve nationwide matters.
Paul character depict the life of everyone new to something, in that there attentive and doing the best of ability to make suitable. Overtime the repetition of the same task can drive a change in emotion, becoming tedious and dull, which then on can quit. In the case of Paul, war only gives two choices: one being survive and live a life of regret and anguish for the events that took place. Or die in combat and leave a hero, fighting for one’s country. Sadly, for Paul’s character, over all the times of death of friends or foes, it became his time, but he was in a sense free from all the corruption and destruction war had to offer.
In addition, another character that had a drastic change is Corporal Himmelstoss. Himmelstoss is describes as a short man that has sadistic and uncaring manner. Before the war, he worked a post-man, but when he joined the army, he became a controlling figure. He became a commanding officer over Paul and many of the other soldiers. Due to his sadistic manner, Himmelstoss would command incoming soldier to long and tormenting hours of drills and trainings. Already hated by the soldiers, he would instill severe and nonsensical punishments among soldiers that act out. “Himmelstoss put these two so that one occupied the upper and the other the lower bunk. The man underneath of course had a vile time. The next night they were changed over and the lower one put on top so that he could retaliate. That was Himmelstoss’s system of self-education.” (Remarque 46).
Instill dominance by any means while asserting him as a predominant figure. Himmelstoss character also created an outer shell of hatred and power among others, but when he was forced to move closer to the trenches due to his unreasonable behavior, he became frightful and scared. In context the trench was being pushed by Frenchman, “Where’s Himmelstoss? Quickly I jumped back in the dug-out and find him with a small scratch lying in the corner pretending to be wounded.” (Remarque 131). That depicted Himmelstoss as a coward when an actual fight occurs. From this, he tries to make amend to the soldiers whom he tormented with his tiresome acts, learning that he is petty and tyrannical. His character symbolizes irresponsibility among people of authority and how if the wrong people obtain power, they’ll abuse it. Over the course of the novel, it shows how a man that is power-hungry can’t keep one’s power, and how in one wrong move they can fall from the top of the pedestal, crashing down becoming a symbol that is detrimental to society.
In war a soldier mindset is to shoot enemies and to protect one’s country. For Müller, he depicts a true soldier that has the mindset of survival. Müller is described as a young man, about 18, who is a member of Paul’s unit. “Müller, who still carries his textbooks with him, dreams of examinations, and during a bombardment mutters propositions in physic” (Remarque 3). This illustrates how young the German soldiers were when they volunteered to join and assist. His traits are honest and realistic, which he attributes to war, by always looking out for himself and to be ready to do any necessary precaution to find a solution.
Müller traits of survival show the measure he’ll take in order to better himself in all means. The quote: “Müller reappears with a pair of airman’s boots … Müller is delighted by the sight of them.” (Remarque 16). Referring to a comrade of Paul and Müller was in the hospital and on the verge of death. Müller asked for his boots due to his being worn out and the trenches being unsanitary, for him not attracting any parasitic viruses. The boots are symbolic, because it represents the unfeeling pragmatism of war.
In perspective it is seen as insensitive to take from a dying man, but for Müller, it’s all about taking account that there is a bigger objective. He sees the bigger picture of war and not all are going to survive, but the few. Müller looked past war when there would be peace. In chapter 5, there is a discussion among the fellow soldiers of their platoon of the ideas of peace. “Better to take your chance in the open, rather than the hollow or the low places.” (Kozorog 56:13). From this, Müller becomes adamant and hopeless on the belief that they will all go home.
Referencing back to his realistic approach on war and how death is inevitable and it’s like a big game of chess; and all the soldier are ponds waiting to be moved to get rid of opposing threats. The irony of Müller is that he seen a future after war in a time of peace, trying to look for the bigger picture, but evidently dies from a pistol bullet leaving him dead. Relating back to the boots he took which ironic everyone who takes the pair dies. Starting with Kemmerich to Müller, then ending with Paul. Showing that war has no feeling on who lives and dies.
To conclude, All Quiet on the Western Front illustrates how war changes everyone, in that death is inevitable. Erich Maria Remarque as depicted in Britannica a soldier that survived war, and lived to tell events that shows a harsher side war brings. Soldiers seek to serve this country to protect and fight, not knowing that fighting can cause a harmful effect, which the soldiers change their state of mind. For Paul, Himmelstoss, and Müller, all three share the same aspiration of serving their country. But all three go through trials and tribulations that change their perception on life and it’s so precious that in the snap of a finger, it can all be taken away. No matter at what level whether it be a position at a high-ranking officer, to one’s own life.
This novel depicts the story of different types of soldiers that attempt to adapt, and that it shows the levels each one takes in order to survive. For Müller, looking ahead of war gave him hope in order to maintain sanity. For Himmelstoss, acting as a fictitious and dictated officer gave him a priority to stay away from the problems of war, and the terror that comes with it. Lastly for Paul, he joined the army for serve. But after countless deaths of his comrades he became sane to the lifestyle of war. In all, All Quiet on the Western Front depicts change in character caused by war, in how the characters in the novel evolve and become prevalent.