Erich Maria Remarque’s Life

Erich Maria Remarque’s life and experiences are reflected in his famous novel, All Quiet On The Western Front. Remarque was born June 22nd, 1898 in Osnabrück, Germany. Remarque grew up very poor, and his father worked as a bookbinder. He began writing at age sixteen, and was planning on attending The University of Münster to become an elementary school teacher. Before he was able to attend, Remarque was drafted into the German Army to fight in WWI at age 18. Maria fought in the war until July of the same year, until he was wounded by shrapnel in the left leg, and right arm and neck. He was taken to an army hospital in Germany where he spent the rest of the war. Remarque’s experience in the war inspired him to write All Quiet On The Western Front. His first hand experience in WWI is shown through his realistic depiction of day to day life and combat as an active soldier in the war. Later on in the 1930s, Remarque had left Germany to live in Switzerland because his writing included major themes such as opposition to war and miserable life during wartime and in post-war Germany.

His writing was unpopular and angered the Nazi government at the time, and they banned and publicly burned his books. Remarque was also stripped of his german citizenship by the Nazis. The next book Remarque wrote was called Der Weg zurück (1931; The Road Back), which was also a war novel. The book deals with life in postwar Germany and it is also a tragic love story. In 1939 Remarque moved to the United States, and he became an American citizen in 1947. After World War Two, Remarque’s writing focused more on personal relationships set against a background of war and social destruction. Overall, Remarque’s life and experiences have greatly shaped and influenced his writing. In All Quiet On the Western Front, Erich Maria paints a picture of the personal experiences that German soldier Paul Bäumer had during World War One.

He takes the reader through the personal and psychological journey Paul Bäumer has as a soldier. The reader is taken from Paul’s time at training camp to the trench warfare of WWI and through the interactions, relationships, experiences, and bonds the young soldiers create. Maria also gives the reader a new insight on the psychological effects of war on the German soldiers, with the majority of the soldiers being young kids just out of high school. He explains how society and civilians who have never experienced war will never know the detrimental psychological effects that war has. These soldiers have had their future and aspirations stripped from them the second they enlisted. Maria shows how these young soldiers are detached from civilian life and normal everyday experiences, but at the same time they have more of an understanding and grasp on the fragility of life and the ugliness and horror of war.

All Quiet On The Western Front reflects the modernist literary characteristics through Maria’s emphasis on the sense of discontinuity and harmony destroyed in WWI, the vision of social breakdown and society in decay, and the psychological influences of WWI. The modernist literary characteristic of discontinuity and harmony destroyed in WWI is prevalent throughout the novel. In the beginning of the novel, Paul and his fellow soldiers Albert Kropp, Haie Westhus, Fredrich Müller, and Tjaden are all young 18 year olds that had dreams and aspirations. They were young recruits, eager and enthusiastic to fight for their fatherland until the reality and ugliness of war was revealed to them. After a gruesome trench battle, Paul recollects—“We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces.

The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war”(88). Paul and his fellow soldiers talk about the war and how it is inhumane to pit young kids from the same generation against each other. Many times throughout the novel, Paul looks back on his previous life before the war, and he finds it hard to feel meaning in his past experiences. He has been changed and shaped by the war, and no longer has the appeal and desire for a career and a family. The past harmony and fun he had with his schoolmates has been long forgotten in the journey through war. The war has killed Paul’s friends and comrades, leaving him empty, alone, and without hope.

The modernist literary characteristic of the vision of social breakdown and the decay of society is also an important aspect that is touched upon in the novel. In the beginning of the novel, Paul remembers his old school teacher, Kantorek, and how he represented adults and society at the time, and he states that “While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger”(13). Paul is describing the ignorance of society and the social breakdown and divide between the adults and young soldiers of the time period. While these parents and teachers are preaching that loyalty and duty to one’s country are the greatest things, they fail to realize what taking part in the war is really like.

The young soldiers live in a different world. Their world is a barbaric wasteland where people massacre eachother everyday and friends and comrades can be lost at any time. Paul describes the soldiers point of view, saying “We distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through”(13). This quote shows how the young soldiers learned to see the true brutality of war and felt the isolation and detachment from their past lives. An important aspect of the modernist literary movement is psychological influence, and the psychological influence of the war on these young soldiers is the basis of the novel itself. Throughout the novel, the reader is able to see the physical and psychological toll that the war takes on Paul. Over time, the war deteriorates the spirit and mind of the young soldiers.

This is apparent when some of the young recruits go mad and start to have delusional breakdowns in the trenches. The war has transformed the way these kids think and behave, and Paul explains that the war has made these young soldiers into men, and even if they are young in age, the events they witness and experience in warfare on a daily basis have made them much older. He emphasizes this point when he is describing the term that civilians have for the young soldiers entering the war, proclaiming, ¨Iron Youth. Youth! We are none of us more than twenty years old. But young? Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk¨. The struggles and trench warfare that these young soldiers have to endure on a daily basis have had an immense psychological influence that have changed their view and outlook on life forever. Written by Diane Henningfeld, An overview of All Quiet on the Western Front points out the negative reactions towards the release of the novel, including criticisms of the emotionless first person narrative of Paul Baumer and the lack of details and history of WWI shown in the novel.

The essay describes how the release of All Quiet On the Western Front received a lot of criticism from the older population of Germany because of the negative portrayal of the war and the soldiers of their generation. The essay also criticizes Paul’s emotionless first person narrative throughout the novel. Henningfeld states that Pauls apathy and lack of emotion towards traumatizing events that occur throughout the war do not fully give the reader a clear insight on the real psychological effects of war. An example of this is the lack of emotion towards the death of Paul’s close friend Müller, with Paul stating “Müller is dead. Someone shot him point-blank in the stomach with a Verey light. He lived for half an hour, quite conscious, and in terrible pain.” Another example of this is how the soldiers dialogue and conversations throughout the novel do not become sentimental whatsoever, and the soldiers keep to themselves, suppressing their thoughts and emotions.

Another criticism in the essay is Remarque’s description of the overall history behind WWI and the warfare of the time period. Henningfeld feels that Remarque scales down the new technology and warfare tactics used in the war to a personal level, and that this perspective doesn’t fully encapsulate the sense of discontinuity and harmony destroyed in WWI, and the vision of social breakdown and society in decay. Hemingway’s short story Soldier’s Home tells the story of a young soldier named Krebs returning from World War One, and his readjustment to life back in his hometown. Krebs returns from the war much later in the summer of 1919, while the other soldiers returned home in 1917. When Krebs returns to his hometown in Oklahoma, he is not greeted with the elaborate and warm welcome that the previous returning soldiers had. Krebs fought in battles at Belleau Wood, Soissons, the Champagne, St. Mihiel, and Argonne.

At first, he did not want to talk about the war at all, but when he did, nobody was interested, as his town had already heard too many atrocity stories to be interested in actualities. Krebs had to lie in order for anyone to be interested in talking to him about the war, and this caused Krebs to develop a“distaste for everything that had happened to him in the war”. During his return, Krebs spends his time sleeping late, going to the library, eating, reading, and playing in the pool room. He also practices clarinet and wanders around downtown. Nothing has really changed in the town, except that the young girls have grown up. Krebs appreciates the way they look and likes to watch them from his front porch as they walk down the street, even though he thinks that they are too complicated to actually get to know. He does not want to talk to them or spend time with them as he fears the “consequences” that come along with building relationships.

One morning when Krebs wakes up, his mother comes into his bedroom and tells him that she talked with his father and they’ve decided to let him take the family car out in the evenings, because before the war, Krebs was not allowed to drive the family car since it was used for his father’s job. During his breakfast, he has a conversation with his sister about indoor baseball, and his mother talks to him about what he is going to do next, in terms of getting a job and finding a definite aim in life, and asks him to visit his father’s office to help get a job. She then asks Krebs if he loves her and he says no, causing her to start crying. He tries to comfort her by saying he doesn’t love anyone, and then that he didn’t mean it. Krebs’s mother asks him to pray with her, but Krebs says he cannot pray and she prays for him. Krebs then kisses his mother and leaves the house, reflecting that his mother made him lie and that his efforts to keep his life from becoming complicated have failed. Another short story by Hemingway called In Another Country is narrated from a soldier’s point of view.

The soldier was fighting in Milan and now walks to a hospital nearby every day. The narrator describes the fall in Milan as cold but pleasant when the electric lights come on, with the cold wind coming down from the mountains. The narrator makes his way to the hospital which is very old and beautiful. The other soldiers sit in ¨machines that were to make so much difference¨. A doctor comes up to the narrator’s machine and asks him what he did before the war, and what kind of sports he played. The narrator tells him he played football and the doctor says he will be able to play again soon. The narrator’s knee does not bend anymore, and there is no calf below it. The machine is meant to bend the narrator’s knee for him, moving it like riding on a tricycle, except it lurches when it gets to the actual bending. Next to the narrator is the major, whose hand has shrunk to the size of an baby’s. Before the war, the major had been Italy’s greatest fencer.

The doctor shows a picture of a small withered hand similar to the majors, that was injured in an industrial accent. The hand was a little bigger and looked better in the photo. The major still had no confidence in getting better. In the hospital there were three other soldier boys from Milan that want to be a lawyer, painter, and soldier, and after treatment the narrator and the boys walk to the the Café Cova. A boy whose nose was shot off on the front line also walks with them sometimes. All of the boys seem detached to the narrator because of their familiarity with death. When they all walk together to the café avoiding the crowds, they feel like they all belong together because they share something that other people don’t understand. All of the boys have medals except the boy with no nose, and the narrator feels ashamed that he got his medal for just “being an American” while the other boys got their medals for heroic acts. While walking in the cold alone, the narrator realizes he could never have done heroic acts to receive a medal. He is very afraid of dying, and often lies awake at night, fearful of death and of returning to the war.

The major goes to the hospital every day, although he doesn’t believe in the effectiveness of the machines. The major asks the narrator what he plans to do when he returns home, and the narrator replies that he hopes to be married. The major calls him a fool by placing himself in a position where he has something to lose. The major then angrily calls for the nurse to turn off the machine and goes to use the phone. The major then returns and apologizes to the narrator for being so rude. He informs the narrator that his wife just died and walks out of the room crying, yet still walking “straight and soldierly” out of the room. The doctor explains to the narrator how the major’s wife was very young and he was waiting until his injury healed to marry her. The major returns to the hospital after three days, wearing a black armband over his uniform. The doctor places framed photographs of wounds the machines have successfully healed on the walls of the treatment room.

The major does not notice them at all, as he just stares straight out the window. These short stories relate to the modernist literary movement and characteristics through the distrust of family bonds, a marginal person/outsider to convey the reality of confusion, alienation of the individual, first person narration, and the psychological influences of WWI. A distrust of family bonds is shown through Kreb’s treatment of his mother and father and the suppressed emotions and feeling he keeps from them. An example of this is Krebs telling his mother he doesn’t love her and ignoring both parents pleas to go get a job and start a new career. Both stories describe the life of a marginal person or outsider to convey the reality of confusion. The marginal person or “outsider” is the WWI soldier away from war (Krebs and the unnamed narrator), feeling detached and out of place in normal society. This is also connected to the alienation of the individual.

The first person narration is shown through the unnamed narrator in In Another Country. Finally, the psychological influences of WWI are shown in both short stories, as the main premise in each story is linked with the effects of war on each soldier. An example of this is Krebs detached personality and lack of desire for connection when he returns to his hometown after the war, and the unnamed narrators fear of dying that causes him to lie awake at night, fearful of death and of returning to the war. These men fight to protect civilian life but feel outcast and misunderstood by everyone else. Written by prominent WWI poet Siegfried Sassoon, the poem Attack relates to my literary movement and my novel by expressing the sense of discontinuity and harmony destroyed in WWI. Siegfrieds descriptive depiction of the warfare in WWI portrays the realness of war and describes what is happening on the battlefield from a soldier’s first person perspective. An example of this is the line ¨Men jostle and climb to, meet the bristling fire. Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear, They leave their trenches¨. This poem has a bitter and violent style, and Siegfried uses alliteration, enjambment, and a unique rhyming scheme to emphasize the negative emotions associated with the war.

The last line of the poem ¨O Jesus, make it stop!¨ speaks for all of the young soldiers thrown into the war, and is a shared emotion felt throughout the men to stop the gruesome warfare. Written by another well known WWI poet Ivor Gurney, the poem To the poet before battle relates to my literary movement and novel by expressing the marginal person/outsider modernist characteristic and the alienation of the individual. It also emphasizes the drafting aspect of WWI. This poem describes a poet in a new environment and now in the middle of the war. The poet is a marginal person and outsider when it comes to fighting. The poet is an alienated individual, and the poem expresses the out of place feeling of the poet. This poem serves as encouragement to the poet, saying “When mere noise numbs The sense of being, the sick soul doth sway, remember thy great craft’s honour, that they may say nothing in shame of poets”.

The poem has a grim and bleak style and utilizes enjambment and a unique rhyming scheme. Overall, the poem conveys a sense of detachment and displacement of the poet in a war like setting.All Quiet On the Western Front is regarded as one of the best, if not the best, war novel of all time. Remarque has had a major influence on the depiction of war and the soldiers involved, and the writing of future war novels. Remarques background as a German soldier in WWI is one of the main reasons why the novel was so monumental. Remarques vivid descriptions and imagery of the first person lifestyle of a soldier during wartime really gave readers a better insight on what war is really like. The novel also does an exceptional job of reflecting the modernist literary characteristics of the time period through Maria’s emphasis on the sense of discontinuity and harmony destroyed in WWI, the vision of social breakdown and society in decay, and the psychological influences of WWI.

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Erich maria remarque's life. (2021, May 12). Retrieved August 10, 2022 , from

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