All Quiet on the Western Front

Erich Maria Remarque?s All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel

set in World War I, centers around the changes wrought by the war on

one young German soldier. During his time in the war, Remarque?s

protagonist, Paul Baumer, changes from a rather innocent Romantic to a

hardened and somewhat caustic veteran. More importantly, during the

course of this metamorphosis, Baumer disaffiliates himself from those

societal icons?parents, elders, school, religion?that had been the

foundation of his pre-enlistment days. This rejection comes about as a

result of Baumer?s realization that the pre-enlistment society simply

does not underezd the reality of the Great War. His new society,

then, becomes the Company, his fellow trench soldiers, because that is

a group which does underezd the truth as Baumer has experienced it.

Remarque demonstrates Baumer?s disaffiliation from the

traditional by emphasizing the language of Baumer?s

pre- and post-enlistment societies. Baumer either can not, or chooses

not to, communicate truthfully with those representatives of his

pre-enlistment and innocent days. Further, he is repulsed by the banal

and meaningless language that is used by members of that society. As

he becomes alienated from his former, traditional, society, Baumer

simultaneously is able to communicate effectively only with his

military comrades. Since the novel is told from the first person point

of view, the reader can see how the words Baumer speaks are at

variance with his true feelings. In his preface to the novel, Remarque

maintains that "a generation of men ... were destroyed by the war"

(Remarque, All Quiet Preface). Indeed, in All Quiet on the Western

Front, the meaning of language itself is, to a great extent,


Early in the novel, Baumer notes how his elders had been facile

with words prior to his enlistment. Specifically, teachers and parents

had used words, passionately at times, to persuade him and other young

men to enlist in the war effort. After relating the tale of a teacher

who exhorted his students to enlist, Baumer states that "teachers

always carry their feelings ready in their waistcoat pockets, and trot

them out by the hour" (Remarque, All Quiet I. 15). Baumer admits that

he, and others, were fooled by this rhetorical trickery. Parents,

too, were not averse to using words to shame their sons into

enlisting. "At that time even one?s parents were ready with the

word ?coward?" (Remarque, All Quiet I. 15). Remembering those days,

Baumer asserts that, as a result of his war experiences, he has

learned how shallow the use of these words was.

Indeed, early in his enlistment, Baumer comprehends that although

authority figures taught that duty to one?s country is the greatest

thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all

that, we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards?they were very

free with these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we

went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the

false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. (Remarque, All Quiet

I. 17)

What Baumer and his comrades have learned is that the words and

expressions used by the pillars of society do not reflect the reality

of war and of one?s participation in it. As the novel progresses,

Baumer himself uses words in a similarly false fashion.

A number of inezces of Baumer?s own misuse of language occur

during an important episode in the novel?a period of leave when he

visits his home town. This leave is disastrous for Baumer because he

realizes that he can not communicate with the people on the home front

because of his military experiences and their limited, or nonexistent,

underezding of the war.

When he first enters his house, for example, Baumer is

overwhelmed at being home. His joy and relief are such that he cannot

speak; he can only weep (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 140). When he and

his mother greet each other, he realizes immediately that he has

nothing to say to her: "We say very little and I am thankful that she

asks nothing" (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 141). But finally she does

speak to him and asks, "?Was it very bad out there, Paul??" (Remarque,

All Quiet VII. 143).

Here, when he answers, he lies, ostensibly to protect her from

hearing of the chaotic conditions from which he has just returned. He

thinks tohimself,

Mother, what should I answer to