Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Johnny Rumble:
Erich Remarque...

Erich Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front, while a classic war novel, is also a novel covering many different issues. On the surface, Reamarque wanted to write a book different from every other published book out there. He wrote a book about from the “enemy” side of the conflict. However, when one looks at his history, Remarque served with the GermanyGerman army, forcing to ask, “Is this really a book that is different from every other war book out there?” I answer no. All Quiet on the Western Front follows the same formula as every other book out thereMost books I read about the same subject. Put main character in war, wound character, kill his friends, make him\her crazy, kill or remove character and or plot. Exciting.

Quick comparison. All Quiet on the Western Front versus Flight of the Intruder by Stephen Coonts. Paul Bäumer and Jake Grafton both are developed in much the same way. Both suffer tremendous losses, are wounded in the line of duty, and both start to question the war. Grafton looses his co-piloted, and Bäumer looses his close friend and company commander. The difference between the two is the nothing but a few dozen years. Remarque’s takes place in World War I while Coonts’ takes place during Vietnam. The two stories are so similar that if you just change a few dates around, the stories are almost interchangeable.

The main character, Paul Bäumer, is a young, school-age man, who, like many of his friend, signed up for the war thinking that it would be a short conflict. Most of the kids’ wealthy parents were ecstatic that war was happening, while only the poor and downtrodden seem to know what is about to happen. Throughout the book, Paul suffers from hunger, the death of his friends, injuries that have him hospitalized, and then ultimately, the loss of his life.
Paul is constantly put into bad situations and some how manages to return alive, if not a little bruised. In Chapter Nine, Paul gets lost while on patrol in No Man’s Land. While trying to get back to his lines, Paul comes across a dying French solider, and tries to comfort him in everyway possible. While this is going on, he slowly starts to lose his mind. He thinks only about his family, his friends, the dead man’s wife, and withdrawals into the “What If?” stage. It is during these passages that one can see exactly what happens to a solider caught in a war for four long bitter years.

Remarque’s book isn’t the “Greatest War Novel of All Time” as the cover suggests, but it is definitely one of the most important. To date, is remains the only book in wide circulation world wide telling about the German side of World War One. It tells of the struggles and shortages that were suffered by a choked, routed, and smashed army filled with inexperienced troops. The violence in All Quiet on the Western Front compares to that of the film Saving Private Ryan. There are scenes of decapitated bodies, rotting corpuses, and grotesque and painful death. Somebody has to stop this madness that is occurring.

Remarque, it would seem, likes to tell the stories of suffering as much as he likes to tell stories of peace and happiness. In almost every chapter there are scenes from the front lines, both West and Eastern. Plus in every, and I mean every chapter somebody dies or becomes a casualty. The author wants us to feel like everybody in the war was a casualty and everybody died. While one could say that happens, war also happens to bring out the best in some people. Take Audie Murphy for example. He was the most decorated American solider in World War Two. He put the lives of other in front of his own. Murphy was decorated with many awards, including the Medal of Honor. While his company retreated Murphy stayed and directied Artillery fire to cover the retreat. Then there is Sgt. York of World War One. Sgt. York spent many days behind enemy lines sniping for the allies. He became so good at his job that a whole German company surrendered to him. And these are just two people out of the countless hundreds of heroes. These people rose to the occasion and some lost their lives in the process. Remarque makes it out that the man who jumped on the grenade to save the platoon was a stupid loss of life. One died to save the lives of many and this is how Remarque thanks him? The amount of people spinning in their graves due to Remarque shouldn’t be that astounding.

Another thing that is not impressive about All Quiet on the Western Front is the absolute repetitiveness of the chapters. They (the characters) are in the trenches, then on leave, and then back in the trenches, on leave…it’s a never ending cycle. The only stimulation that occurs in Chapter 10 when the cycle is broken, if only slightly. Paul is put into the hospital for most of the chapter. Even then the dreaded cycle still occurs. Paul’s company is tasked to help evacuate a village when artillery strikes and the wounds occur. In action then out of action…it never ends. My brain is more intrigued watching NASCAR. At least that can be a little unpredictable at times.

Unfortunately, Remarque just regurgitates ideals and truths that everybody already knows. Most people know that “war is hell,” and can be very bloody. So why write a book about it? And more importantly, why is this book critically acclaimed? Simple I think it is because…Human nature is fascinated by death. Look at the number of media items that portray death and humans at their worst. We are fascinated by blood and excessive gore. Talk to media publishers and they will tell you that sex and blood sell. So the next question that has to asked is, “Why did Remarque write All Quiet on the Western Front?” I believe the answer is quite simple and plain. Money and Notoriety. He saw an opening that he knew he could fill and did so, becoming a very famous and widely read person.

While we’re on the subject of ideals and truths, let’s compare All Quiet on the Western Front to George Orwell’s 1984. While both go into the thought process of men under stress, 1984 delves much deeper and is much more thought provoking. Allowing the reader to, in essence, become the main character allows for a much more personal touch to be applied. 1984 executes this perfectly, while All Quiet on the Western Front leaves you feeling left out and disconnected. Why? Orwell develops his characters with much more personality and much more mental capacity. Remarque tells a story of the war and not of his main character. It’s almost like reading a biography. Not fulfilling.

But the one thing that still boggles me to this day is, “Why are teenagers being forced to read this sub-par book?” Remarques book is filled with feelings that normal everyday teenagers feel every day. Emotions such as: despair, loneliness, hatred, and anger. Every teenager has felt the range of emotions brought forth by this book. Why are they being subjugated to this? Answer: because it was the first. Never before had somebody told a story that was beyond the conflict and the fighting, a story that dives into the primal nature of man at war. There are tons of books that have been written since that do a much better job, but because teachers think that the first is always the greatest, teenagers are stuck reading a boring, repetitive novel that they had no interest reading in the first place. I had to read this book and write a review essay much like this one in the tenth grade. Needless to say I was the only one with a dissenting opinion.
Erich Remarques novel All Quiet on the Western Front is, at the surface a good book and a decent read, but when looked at deeper and more thoroughly, this book is more likely to delegated to look pretty on a bookshelf collecting dust while more interesting reads such as Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, and George Orwell are pulled out, dusted and read much to the entertainment to the reader. All in all, the only good thing that happens in All Quiet on the Western Front is the last page.

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