The following is a multiparagraph paper I wrote for an advanced English class last year. This is on the book, NOT the movie. Page numbers refer to the classroom version of the book - unfortunately that's the only help I can give you on those. The paper won't be much help unless you've read the book, but if you have...
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
George McGovern once said, “I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.” Erich Maria Remarque would certainly have agreed with him; in his novel of the First World War, All Quiet on the Western Front, his protagonist embodies the selfsame idea. Paul Bäumer, a young German, finds himself caught up in a war that means far more to the older generation left at home than it does to him and his comrades: “‘I think it (the war) is more of a kind of fever,’ says Albert. ‘No one in particular wants it, and then all at once there it is. We didn’t want the war, the others say the same thing – and yet half the world is in it all the same’” (181). Youthful, idealistic, and patriotic at the war’s beginning, Paul gradually evolves throughout the course of the fighting into an “Iron Youth” destroyed by something he never believes in. During the war Paul loses many battles, but his most difficult and emotionally devastating takes place on a psychological, rather than physical, front, where he engages in a desperate struggle against despair. For Paul’s only comfort exists in his treasured belief that someday he may return to the life he left, to his world of books, family, school, words, and friends, and he manages to keep the hope that he may still do so until his pivotal return home on leave, when he sees his parents and his past for the first time since going to the front. There he encounters strange feelings of isolation, rejection, and instability that he had never imagined could exist in a place so familiar. In Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Paul’s changing relationships with his mother and father spur on his gradual realization that he can never return to the life that once meant everything to him.
Affected by his mother’s illness, innocence, and uncompromising love for her son, Paul cannot communicate his experiences to her. Seeing his mother sickly and helpless gives rise to Paul’s instinctive protectiveness and desire to shield those he loves from pain. Constantly haunted in his mother’s presence by the signs of her illness – her wan appearance and all-too-apparent weakness – and by the threat of her imminent death, Paul feels that he cannot poison their last days together with tales of suffering from the front. Paul’s desire to keep his mother’s innocence regarding the war intact acts as a censor as well. No longer his pre-war, adolescent self, struggling vainly to understand the adult world, Paul finds it strange and unnerving that he now knows more about life than his mother does, and does not quite know how to respond to her naïve statements about the war. In response to one of her gently concerned comments, he thinks, “It is my mother who says that. She says: ‘With the gas and all the rest of it.’ She does not know what she is saying...” (143). Slowly he begins to feel that they have changed places; whereas once she sheltered him from the violent adult world, now Paul must keep the truths of his own world from reaching her ears. Lastly, although he has always known that his mother loves him, only during his leave does Paul begin to realize what lengths her love will take her in her efforts to make him feel happy and at home. Despite the family’s poverty and the fact that she needs expensive medical treatment, she sacrifices money and resources to provide small comforts for her son. Paul feels keenly grateful for her altruistic deeds because he knows full well how much they cost her; when she gives him the precious gift of wool under-pants, Paul thinks sorrowfully of what she must have done to procure them: “Ah! Mother! I know what these under-pants have cost you in waiting, and walking, and begging!” (162). Paul’s silence regarding the war acts almost as a return gesture of selflessness, for, despite his increasing sense that pouring his heart out to his mother would give him comfort and relief, he understands that doing so would give her unnecessary pain and worry. Affected by the changes apparent in his mother, Paul finally understands, beyond any doubt, that he will never again feel the liberation of candor even if he experiences the freedom of living beyond war.
Through his intrusive curiosity, desire for public display, and ignorant ideas about war, Paul’s father isolates himself from his son even as he tries, with the best of intentions, to lessen the gap. Most importantly, he perseveres in pestering Paul to talk to him about the war. Ignoring Paul’s quiet hints, he continues to ask questions that Paul finds annoying, insensitive, and intrusive: “...He is curious in a way that I find stupid and distressing; I no longer have any real contact with him” (146). By insisting to Paul that he talk about his experiences at the front, he shows Paul the difficulty of talking to any civilian about fighting and estranges himself from his own son. His desire for Paul to display publicly his status as a soldier causes Paul discomfort as well. Enjoying the feeling of release from soldierhood, Paul wants to relax and enjoy his rest; his father, however, blinded by pride and misguided patriotism, attempts to incite Paul to parade his “courage” for their neighbors to see by wearing his uniform throughout his leave. Frustrated and disillusioned, Paul spends as little time as possible with his father during his stay to avoid the badgering; however, the people he encounters while trying to elude his father, and their attempted influence on him, create similar reactions within the young soldier, and he emerges isolated and disheartened. Finally, his father’s view of the war demonstrates to Paul the essential difference between the perceptions of a soldier and a civilian. While Paul and his comrades regard fighting with fear, loathing, and a sense of injustice, Paul’s father and other civilians in Paul’s little town seem to view war as something akin to a sporting event: “...I confine myself to telling him a few amusing things. But he wants to know whether I have ever had a hand-to-hand fight” (146). His father’s concept of war seems alien and abhorrent to Paul, and stretches the gulf between them even wider. As a consequence of his father’s insensitivity and lack of understanding, Paul comprehends that more than time separates them. A chasm of experience and sorrow yawns betwixt their worlds – one that Paul may never bridge.
Since, for Paul, his mother and father represent his past, his childhood, and the joy of life that he once possessed, the realization that he can no longer connect with them hits him harder than anything else. Until he returns home on leave, he entertains a small, sheltered hope that he might someday live as he once did, amongst accepting, loving family and friends. However, along with Paul’s consciousness that his relationship with his parents has changed beyond recognition comes the understanding that the change traces its origins to the change that the war has wrought in Paul. For Paul also finds himself turning away from other things he once cherished, things that cannot change in their own rights – words, hope, life. At the last Paul has nothing left but his comrades, and even they finally desert him through injury, fear, or death. Not only does the war force Paul to fight for a cause he does not comprehend or believe in, it also destroys his life beyond recognition; worse, none of the older men safe at home seem to realize what they have done to the young men who constitute the post-war future of their own country.