Erich Maria Remarque

[(Essay date June 10, 2011) In this essay, T.S. examines the images of war and camaraderie presented in All Quiet on the Western Front.]

"This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war." (Remarque Preface)


All Quiet on the Western Front is known to be the novel that sparked Erich Maria Remarque’s rise to fame. Remarque was able to utilize his own memories of war, as he served in the German army during World War I. This familiarity with the topic makes for an enticing, unforgettable reading experience. The story is told by Paul Baumer, a young soldier who witnesses his friends dying in World War I and realizes what war truly is, and then finds himself unable to adapt to life off of the battlefield. The novel questions the meaning of war and the effect that it has on the people who experience it firsthand and the image of an enemy painted by people other than the soldier killing said enemy.


It is revealed in the first chapter that this war has brought together experienced older men as well as younger men who have much of their lives still ahead of them. Paul Baumer and his friends are nineteen years old. One man, Katczinsky, is forty years of age. They are stationed at the front together and have one thing in common—they have to fight for a cause that they once, but no longer, believed is theirs. The men were all told to fight for their country, but they feel as if it is not their responsibility to represent their country and kill to be considered a hero. This is brought to light by Alfred Kropp, who says that “War should be a kind of popular festival with entrance tickets and bands… in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries…armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting” (41). Paul believes that he is not as immature as one his age is expected to be. Kantorek, his former professor, calls him and his classmates the “Iron Youth”, but Paul feels as if the war has turned them to anything but “Youth”. He even rejects his former hobby of writing poetry. The war has destroyed the young men’s mental state and has created an image of future that includes nothing but war and death. When one thinks of war, one may not think of this. One may think of war simply as a time in the past when people did not like each other and killed each other. War, however, becomes something else when it is told in the eyes of someone experiencing it for himself.


Paul comes to not understand why he is a soldier. He had joined the military because he believed it was his responsibility to fight for his country and bring victory and honor home with him. Paul recalls that the first instance in which his realized that his motivation for fighting was not substantial was when he experienced his first bombardment. One event that seems to really change Paul is when his friend Kemmerich dies in front of him and then Paul is obligated to tell Kemmerich's mother the horrible news. It is very difficult to imagine a close friend dying, and even worse to picture a friend dying in front of one’s eyes. He realizes that a war filled with killing and dying is not necessary because it does nothing but break a person’s heart. Paul is faced with a French soldier and feels that he must kill the man, otherwise the man would kill him. Paul has an epiphany after killing the "enemy" soldier, and says, “Comrade, I did not want to kill you. . . . But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. . . . I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”(223) Paul goes on to say that he would give his own life if it brought the man back to life. How is it that one can kill a person that is said to be their enemy if they do not personally know the “enemy” in question? And when the deed is done, what has been accomplished?


All Quiet on the Western Front is an anti-war novel that forces readers to look at war in a different way than other sources, such as history textbooks, do. It immerses the audience in the events that occur in a war and describes them in a true, although horrific and gory, way. Something like this novel is necessary in the world though. Remarque has exposed the truth of war and the need for camaraderie instead of fighting. The world needs truth. It is without surprise that Erich Maria Remarque has been, and should continue being, respected for this novel.


(T.S. 2011)




[(Essay date June 10, 2011) In this analysis and criticism of Arch of Triumph, T.S. discusses the elements of the story that make it a notable piece of literature, including its feminine figures and use of setting.]


Erich Maria Remarque, in Arch of Triumph, tells the story of a German refugee living in Paris in 1939. The man calls himself Ravic instead of his actual name so that he can evade deportation and can continue his work as a doctor. Ravic experiences love, happiness, feelings of revenge, and heart-break throughout the novel. Remarque makes great use of the novel being set in Paris, female characters, and Ravic's struggle to find happiness to make for an interesting read.


Paris is known to be the "city of love". Ravic falls in love with a woman named Joan Madou in this city. Remarque, however, does not stress the fact that the characters are in Paris when they find love. It appears to be coincidental. This shying away from the stereotype sets Arch of Triumph aside from many novels set in this French capital. One may also notice that the street names presented in this novel have their original French names. The French word for "street" is "rue" and many streets that Ravic travels retain this title. Arch of Triumph was originally released in German and called Arc de Triomphe. The fact that a German author writes French words and titles is exciting for a person who finds languages interesting or someone who would like to learn a few French words. The landmark which lent its name to the title of this book makes appearances, and many of these appearances are very clever. Ravic and Joan walk through Paris numerous times and see the Arch of Triumph shining. In the end of the story, though, as Ravic reveals his identity and is deported from the country, it is noted that "It was so dark that one could not even see the Arc de Triomphe"(Remarque 455). Ravic triumphs when he finds someone who loves him, but then he loses her. The Arch, which once symbolized triumph and hope, becomes an indication that Ravic's hope has died.


Many of Erich Maria Remarque's works include male main characters. Although a female is not the main character in this story, feminine figures do play significant roles in influencing Ravic and his behavior. Each woman that Ravic becomes acquantances with induces very different reactions in him. Eugénie, the nurse with whom Ravic works, is a witty, straightforward person. Ravic sometimes finds himself confused by Eugénie and does not know how to talk or act to her. His colleague, Veber, must interject and relieve him. Kate Hegstroem is a woman that Ravic operates on not once, but twice. Kate trusts Ravic and they are true friends. They drink together and have many assorted conversations. A woman named Sybil is mentioned several times in the story before Ravic has a dream of her. It is disclosed that Sybil is a woman who Ravic had known in Germany and that she experienced the cruel methods of interrogation used by the Gestapo. Ravic is haunted by the visions of her suffering and this motivates him to get revenge and hunt down Haake, the man responsible. Joan, on the other hand, constantly confuses Ravic. He finds that he cannot predict her actions and responses. Joan's mysterious personality contributes to Ravic's falling in love with her and the difficulties they experience in their relationship. One could even say that the women Ravic encounters are the biggest influence on Ravic's behavior. This becomes evident at the end of the novel when Joan is shot and dies. Ravic is extremely despressed by this and admits to authorities that he is living in France illegally.


Ravic has thoughts of happiness throughout the story and he learns what happiness truly is and what it means to him. Ravic finds his happiness through being a doctor and saving lives. When he meets Joan, he also experiences happiness through love. After Ravic sees Haake, the man accountable for Ravic's mental and physical pain, the feeling he gets from plotting and committing the murder gives him an ecstatic mood.Unfortunately for Ravic, none of these things happen in a consistent manner. He realizes that being a doctor does not only give him the ability to save lives, but to take them as well. He could be a murderer with a scalpel. Joan and Ravic have a difficult relationship. They are in love, but at times they would have disagreements and are unhappy with each other. When Joan dies, Ravic has lost a source of happiness and willingly gives up his chance to save lives as a doctor. Ravic sets out to find, track down, and murder the man that has made Ravic lead his life as a refugee, given him a scar on his forehead, and been the reason for his mental damage. When this deed is done, though, Ravic feels a sense of accomplishment, but not for long. He begins to think what he could have done differently. He plays through in his head what he wishes he had said to Haake before he killed him. "Don't move your hands! Or I'll shoot you down! Do you remember little Max Rosenberg who lay beside me in the cellar with his torn body and who tried to smash his head on the cement wall to keep from being questioned again--questioned, why? Because he was a democrat!"(394) He then wonders how he could have done such a thing in the first place. Ravic has troubles achieving and maintaining a sense of happiness.


The setting, female characters, and fight for happiness utilized by Erich Maria Remarque transport the reader to 1939 Paris, where females did not fit the typical female stereotype of the time period and the fight for happiness seems attainable, but not maintainable.

(T.S. 2011)