Paul Baumer in “All Quiet on the Western Front”
Like all novels, there is always a protagonist that experiences a change or growth throughout the story. Paul Bäumer is the central figure from the novel All Quiet on the Western Front, which the reader follows. All throughout the novel, Bäumer was forced to deal with his contrasting inner personality and his forced personality with was formed throughout the war. Before the war, Bäumer was seen as a deeply compassionate man who was extremely delicate and very much in tune with his emotions. He was a poet who loved his family, but everything would soon change during the war, and his personality begins to evolve due to the conditions he faced during war. Paul, as well as many other soldiers, were forced to learn how to to disconnect themselves from their true feelings in order to endure the amount of horror and anguish that was yet to face in the war, all in the sake of survival and preserving their own sanity.
As stated in the novel, Paul was a completely different man before the war. He was a young man at the ripe age of 20, who was naive about the future. He, of course, hadn’t had much life experience for his to be ready for war, but he entered the battlefield with an open mind and heart. Before the war, he was free to express himself through poetry and playwrights. Paul lived with his father, mother, and sister in a charming German village, and attended school. In the novel, it states: “It is strange to think that at home in the drawer of my writing table there lies the beginning of a play called “Saul” and a bundle of poems” (Remarque 21). This evidently shows that Paul had a poetic life back at home, and he was deeply thinking back on his past life before war. Throughout the book, Paul continuously thought about his home, the books he was reading, the artwork, but this was mainly shown in chapter two. However, this passion of his soon begins to fade, as he realizes that he must think more realistically regarding his situation; war. He no longer had any interest in, or time for, poetry, and his parents now seem like an unreliable memory. He feels that “only facts are real and important to us.”
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At this point, the reader is able to distinguish the loss of innocence that Paul goes through as a young man. Lastly, it was well known that Paul had loved his family. His mother was terminally ill, cancer, and the thought of her made him grow weak. “When my mother says to me “dear boy,” it means much more than when another uses it. I know well enough that the jar of whortleberries is the only one they have had for months, and that she has kept it for me; and the somewhat stale cakes that she gives me too. She has taken a favourable opportunity of getting a few and has put them all by for me” (Remarque 126). This shows how passionate he had felt about his mother. He truly wished the best for her and only wanted her to live. Eventually, all of these extreme emotions will vanish, as Paul will endure more and more horror, which forces him to grow up and experience things that he wasn’t meant to experience at his age. Paul’s character had endured so much during the war, and his personality was stale. Life had grown to feel more like survival than living. He had learned to disconnect his feelings from his natural state of mind, so that he was able to keep his sanity at bay. This, however, affected his ability to be in tune with his emotions, and he was no longer able to mourn over the loss of his fellow comrades. He had evolved into more of an ‘animal-;like’ state, as his natural instinct was trained to ‘kill and survive’.
This prevented his ability to reconnect with his family and truly feel at home again. “For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity . . . to the future . . . in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs” (Remarque 6). This shows that Paul, as well as his fellow comrades, knew that their lives would never return to their original state, and that returning to their original lives and personalities was inevitable.
All in all, it’s clear to see that Paul had undergone some extreme changes throughout the novel. He had went from being a super passionate and poetic person, who loved his family, to a man who naturally lives of of animal-like instincts, which have been trained to him throughout war. His character development throughout the novel was extremely miserable to read about, as the reader can start to pinpoint Paul’s downfalls throughout the novel. However, his personal growth was strong. He was able to grow from a coward to a strong and independent man who was able to fend for himself. It’s important to realize that Paul didn’t choose to go through these changes, but rather was forced to in order to preserve his sanity, and even his life.