Soldier’s Mental Health in all Quiet on the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel written by Erich Maria Remarque, and this book is based on the setting of World War 1. It explores the perspective of a German soldier named Paul Baumer going through his experience of being in the war and giving the readers the lens about the reality of war. The book also focuses on the soldiers’ feelings on the detachment from the civilian life they felt when returning home from the front. Also explores the disorder called PTSD “Post-traumatic stress disorder” and it is ubiquitous for soldiers. It is a disorder that happens when soldiers experience intimidating events that remain in them for extended periods. The symptoms for this disorder are emotional detachment, depression, and irritability. Remarque uses sensory imagery of sight and sound to display the theme of how the trauma of war make a significant impact on the soldier’s mental health in the form of vivid description to demonstrate how soldiers experience mental changes with the signs of PTSD and a mental change that causes them to act like a beast.
To begin with, Remarque uses sensory imagery of sight and sound to display how soldiers are mentally affected by the symptoms of PTSD of emotional detachment and irritability against something as they witness the real effects of war. When Paul and his comrades are at the front, he sees how Haie Westhus who is one of the comrades and describe how he was suffering from the wound he got from the war. Paul relates to the incident by explaining, “We see men living with their skulls blown upon; we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps into the next shell-hole; a lance-corporal crawls a mile and half on his hands dragging his smashed knee after him; another goes to the dressing station and over his clasped hands bulge his intestines…” (Remarque 134). Soldier mentally feels the trauma after seeing the reality of war as described, “ men living with their skulls blown upon.” Soldiers feel mentally suffocated as they witnessed soldiers got a physical injury as described, “we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps into the next shell-hole,” demonstrating how traumatizing and deadly the war life is. Soldiers cannot become emotionally involved with each of their fellow soldiers. As they face the horrible atrocities, they cannot engage in any emotional connections because many soldiers go through the phase of having physical pain from the wound they got from fighting in the war. As they start to think about them, it will eventually lead them to insanity. It is a symptom of PTSD causing the soldiers to have emotional detachment. Moreover, Remarque uses sensory imagery of sound to display how soldiers experience PTSD. Paul starts describing his perspective of him being at the bombardment and how he heard the sounds of shell shocks hitting the ground and after it lessens. They hear the shrieking of horses crying. He describes it with, “ We can bear anything. However, now the sweat breaks out on us. We must get up and run no matter where, but where these cries can no longer be heard”(Remarque 63-64). Remarque uses imagery of sounds to illustrate how the soldiers were mentally affected by letting the readers explore the reality of war through the perspective of Paul. It clearly shows how the soldiers were mentally impacted by hearing the cries of the horses which caused them to be paranoid. It is a side effect of PTSD as it caused the soldiers to feel irritated. Soldiers were traumatized by the, “cries” since they could not bear it because of how torturous it to hear which made them run away from the trenches. Remarque uses imagery to give the readers a perspective of how war life is not something that is glorifying except it is a burden that makes the soldiers die for their country due to the terrible atrocities faced by them which caused them to feel distanced away from their normal life.
Furthermore, Remarque uses the sensory imagery of sight to display how Paul suffers PTSD through the symptom of depression and a mental change that causes the soldiers to act like a beast. As he returns to home from the front, he regrets going back to the war and reflects on the trauma that he re-experienced by seeing the books at the stand. Paul states, “ The backs of the books stand in rows. ‘I know them all still, I remember arranging them in order. I implore them with my eyes: Speak to me —take me, Life of my Youth… Images float through my mind, but they do not grip me, they are mere shadows and memories.’ Nothing— Nothing” (Remarque 172). Remarque uses the imagery of sight as described, “the backs of the books stand in rows” to display how Paul was looking through his books for the good memories he had during his childhood to evoke away the trauma he suffered through the war. Remarque uses the phrase, “mere shadows and memories” to hint how the horrors of war made Paul be mentally affected as he sees his childhood photos he cannot experience any positive emotions as he only thinks about the memories of war causing him to feel depressed. It is a symptom of PTSD because Paul is re-experiencing the terrible atrocities he witnessed at the front which makes him feel more depressed to the stage where he cannot recollect any good memories.
The word, “Nothing” is used to hint the readers how mentally Paul was affected causing him to lose hope because he has realized that he can never be able to have a normal life. It is evident because Remarque uses imagery of sight to the senses of the readers by bringing them into Paul’s mind and witnessing the trauma he goes through. In addition, Remarque uses the imagery of sight to illustrate how the horrors of war can cause soldiers to mentally change as they go to fight against their enemy at the front. Paul observes the incident as him, and his comrades are on a mission to lay the barbed wire, Paul describes, “ By the animal instinct that is awakened in us we are led and protected. It is not conscious; it is far quicker, much more sure, less fallible, than consciousness… We march up, moody or good-tempered soldiers—we reach the zone where the front begins and become on the instant human animals” (Remarque 56). Remarque uses sensory imagery of sight to illustrate how the war made the soldiers to be dehumanized and mentally affected as described, “By the animal instinct that is awakened in us we are led and protected.” Remarque uses the phrase, “We march up, moody or good-tempered soldiers and become on the instant human animals” which hints the readers that the soldiers cease to become men, but as they go into the front, their animal instinct is turned on and becomes a beast illustrating how the trauma of the war made the soldiers act differently. The imagery of sight is applied to give the readers the lens of the reality of war through the perspective of Paul causing the soldiers to be mentally trained like a robot that is programmed to kill their opponents. It is evident because the horrors of war are making the soldiers feel different and not the person who they were before as they joined to fight in the war.
In conclusion, Remarque uses the vivid description in the form of imagery to display the trauma of soldiers went through by facing the horrible atrocities that happened in the war leaving them with a big mental scar in their life which reflected heavily on their mental health. It is impossible for soldiers to leave the war unscathed even if they don’t suffer from any psychological effects. The soldiers who survived are most likely to suffer from the trauma than the soldiers who lost their lives on the battlefield. Still today many soldiers who are in the war still suffer the mental effects and the symptoms of PTSD just like Paul did.