Enrich Maria Remarque’s book ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ features Paul Bäumer, a 20-year old German soldier who represents a whole generation of men that history refers to as the ‘Lost Generation.’ Through his character, the author tells a story of men who were destroyed by what is referred to as ‘The Great War.’ For instance, in chapter 2, Paul attempts to describe the difference between his generation and that of the older soldiers and notes that the older soldiers had a life before the war that they felt comfortable and secure (Remarque, 2004). On the contrary, Paul’s Generation did not get a chance to experience that life (Van Kirk, 2011, p. 72). From the start of the story, the life of Paul is dominated by death, horror, suffering, fear, and hopelessness. This paper explores the sources of Paul’s suffering. Betrayal of trust and Paul’s constant exposure to death are cited as the most significant sources of his suffering.
Betrayal is one of the major themes in Remarque’s book that causes harm to the casualties or fatalities to the allies of the traitor. Its effects on the victims are adverse. They include deep disappointment and agonizing anguish. In Remarque’s book, the youths have to contend with the disillusion they feel about the people in whom they once believed. Instance, the teachers, who were charged with the roles of cultivating the minds of the young men and fuel their insatiable thirst for ideas, become the primary objects for the students’ resentment. The resentment was created by the pack of lies unleashed on the students by the teachers. An example is Paul’s instructor named Kantorek, who Paul says knew nothing about war, yet sent many innocent young students to face their death.
Death in the battlefields was not glorious, fitting or right as depicted by the schoolmaster’s sermons of false passions, which romanticized death, glorified the battle as well as the honor of the young soldiers that were depicted to be fighting for their motherland. When Joseph Bhem, one of Paul’s classmates, did not desire to join the army, the school master coerces him using methods of bandwagon coupled with loaded words to ensure that the students enlist as soldiers. Bhem enlisted as a soldier since he did not want to be called a ‘coward’ from the school master’s idealized viewpoint. Unfortunately, Bhem was among the first soldiers to die painfully in the war.
In another instance, Remarque takes the reader through Paul’s experiences with Corporal Himmelstoss, an officer in Charge of Paul’s regiment during the training. Himmelstoss consistently depicts cruelty towards Paul and his colleagues by sadistically forcing them to work for long hours and drill constantly. When the moment of truth arrives, and Himmelstoss is sent to the frontline of the battlefield to serve as an ordinary soldier, he is freaked and even fakes his death, in the process risking the lives of other frontline soldiers like Paul. The acts of Himmelstoss betray the trust of Paul and other soldiers who had trusted him to cover their back or fight the enemy. As Paul and other soldiers in his regiment realize the deception and the lies perpetuated by the older generation as well as the people in charge of them in the frontline, they suffer as depicted in the scene where Paul talks about life at the front and wonders how the bombardment had shown them their mistakes and under it the world as thought to them by the older generation broke in pieces (p. 13).
The constant exposure to death is another source of Paul’s suffering. The war experiences, as narrated by Paul, reveals that these were dangerous moments, whereby anybody would have possibly gone mad, deserted duty or even died. Death is the most obvious effect of war, and all frontline soldiers like Paul were constantly exposed to it. For instance, Paul describes one of the scenes when he was exposed to death during an air raid in a cemetery. In Paul’s account, the air raid in the cemetery had been reduced to a mass of wreckage with corpses thrown everywhere. Paul proceeds to say that the corpses had been killed the second time, but is grateful for every corpse that was sprung as they saved a soldier from death (Remarque, 2004, p. 71). In the scene, Paul reveals how his exposure to death had caused him much suffering.
Exposure to death had also made Paul think in an illogical manner. For instance, Paul believes that man is just an abstraction, and not real (Tofil, 2017). When stuck in ‘No Man’s Land,’ an enemy soldier ends in the same hole with Paul, and in the height of adrenaline, Paul stabs the enemy and wears him off. He justifies his actions by saying that it was the abstraction that he stabbed. According to Paul, an enemy was an idea that lived in his mind and prompted an appropriate action. After the incident, Paul realizes that for the first time that he was dealing with real men like himself (p. 223), and was suffering just like himself.
In conclusion, the betrayal of trust and the exposure to death were among the most significant sources of Paul’s suffering. Paul and the soldiers had been betrayed by the older generation of the people they trusted like the schoolmaster and the Corporal in charge of his regiment during his training. Also, the psychological effects of war, which included thinking illogically, and temporary madness had caused him much suffering. Paul and other soldiers were suffering not just from the threat of their own death, but also from the loss and betrayal, and the realization of the magnitude of death.