Loss of Innocence and Youth
Innocence is an enemy in this narrative. In order to survive, a soldier must get rid of it quickly if he wants to survive. Paul Baumer learns quickly to lose his innocence. Observing from others around him, but also from personal experiences throughout this recital. All Quiet on the Western Front, published by Erich Remarque in 1928, showcased the brutal reality of war. War novels before tended to romanticize the idea of war, emphasizing ideas such as glory and honor. All Quiet on the Western Front sets out to portray war as it was actually experienced, replacing the romantic picture of glory and heroism with a decidedly unromantic vision of fear, meaninglessness, and butchery.
Sent off to war by their idealistic schoolmaster, Kantorek, Paul Baumer and his young friends quickly become aware of the cruel reality of war, and lose their youthful innocence. Paul describes in a moment of imagery, “These are wonderfully care-free hours. Over us is the blue sky. On the horizon float the bright yellow sunlit observation-balloons, and the many little white clouds of the anti-aircraft shells […] we hear the muffled rumble of the front only as a very distant thunder, bumble-bees droning by quite drown it. Around us stretches the flowery meadow. The grasses sway their tall spears; the white butterflies flutter around and float on the soft warm wind of the late summer. We read letters and newspapers and smoke” Baumer 9. At a moment like this, the soldiers find themselves in a kind of protected paradise. Nature imagery figures largely throughout the novel, and we especially see this imagery in this moment. They are detached from the unnatural workings of war, and are surrounded by buzzing life.
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This is a rare moment on relief, where things can seem as they were before they were thrusted into this horrid war. Remarque use the technique of allegory to describe the young men. “Iron Youth. Youth! We are none of us more than twenty years old. But young? Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk” Baumer 18. The term”Iron Youth” is used to describe Paul’s generation. This term is an ideal group of strong Fatherland-lovin’ young soldiers who enlist and fight in the war as a way of showing pride for Germany and its history. The author and characters in the book tear this ideal apart, feeling it to be useless and empty when compared with the realities of war. “With our young, awakened eyes we saw that the classical conception of the Fatherland held by our teachers resolved itself here into a renunciation of personality such as one would not ask of the meanest servant” Baumer 22. However, these soldiers are not made of iron, they are flesh and blood. They are human, they feel and have emotions. The term “”iron”” would suggest they are protected emotionally and physically against all realities of war, but this is proven completely incorrect. Lives are destroyed in the arms of war.
Eric Remarque’s semi-autobiographical novel points to the sharp contrast between the rhetoric of war and the reality of it. The loss of innocence and youth is that reality he evidently portrays. The reality is depressing. These men are a lost generation, —. “We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial – I believe we are lost” Baumer 123. These young men had been pushed into the role of men too early, to the point where the only support they have are their fellow soldiers. They are strangers the their families, confused in a society that had moved on and grown. That reality is overwhelming for anyone to go through. These men were told war was glorious, and it would be an honor to die for their country. There is no way you could prepare anyone for the actuality of warfare.Soldiers suffer immensely and the rest of the world is blind. Confined in wet trenches in the earth with thousands of other men, water up to your knees, there is no being comfortable in war. Watching you comrades die before you becomes the norm, there is no time to mourn. Emotions die, you simply exist, there is no more living. You are going through the motions of war. Erich Remarque does a phenomenal job at executing the harshness ad tribulation men faced.
There is an abundance of concepts that can be applied to human life in this narration. Overall, the value of life is powerful. These men are fighting for their lives every second of the day, with absolutely no promises. They could die any second. For example, Chapter 4 in the graveyard section. The ideas of life and death are set side by side. Paul’s regiment has been caught in a firefight out on the fields, they realise that the only cover is the graveyard and mounds. They men desperately search for cover, reaching the point of unearthing coffins. Paul removes a corpse and crawls under the dead man’s coffin in hopes that, “it shall protect [him], through Death himself lies in it” Baumer 67. The graveyard scene shows the closeness of human life in the war to the dead. Human life has little value, and death is not a poor alternative to life. People will never truly learn to value their lives enough, without facing war, head on first.
War is unforgiving. War takes so much and equally leaves behind sadness. Soldiers entire lives are ripped away from them, they are forcefully changed. They are birth anew, but in fear, they are no longer the person they once were when they were drafted off. War has taken that, and that is not something you can get back. There are no second chances, there is no promise of when it will be over. The civilians handed and gun and stuck on the front lines were not the ones who decided to go to war. Soldiers must shoulder extreme stress on the battlefield. Those that cannot mentally overcome these challenges may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sadly, some resort to suicide to escape their insecurities. Soldiers, however, are not the only ones affected by wars; family members also experience mental hardships when their loved ones are sent to war. War is a cuel, unforgiving taker.”