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How does the extreme hardship and conflict of war affect an individual? War always takes a toll on the individual and leaves drastic changes to the human soul; this loss of innocence is a recurring motif and major theme throughout the novel. Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the greatest war novels of all time. The story follows the protagonist, Paul Baumer, a young, artistic boy who enlists in the German army in World War I and challenges the false glorification of war. Throughout the story, Paul repeatedly faces horrifying experiences and by the end of the novel, he is left both physically and mentally broken without the identity of his former self To convey this, Remarque — a war veteran himself– highlights how Paul has been stripped of his not only his innocence, but humanity, purpose, creative spirit, and ability to relate to society. Remarque is also able to convey the loss of innocence theme by showing the newfound disconnect between Paul and society. Paul, who has seen the death and depravity of the front, has become completely unable to relate to civilian society. Before the war, Paul was a civilian who connected well with his family and society. Now that Paul has experienced the horrors of the battlefield, he has lost the ability to make connections and can no longer integrate into nonmilitary lifestyles. “I breathe deeply and say to myself: ‘You are at home; you are at home. ‘ But a sense of strangeness will not leave me, I can find nothing of myself in all these things. There is my mother, there is my sister, there is my case of butterflies, and there is the mahogany piano – but I am not myself there. There is a distance, a veil between us” (99).

Remarque uses a unique diction with the word “veil”. He chose the word veil because it perfectly symbolizes his disconnect from society and his inability to verbalize the hardships he has endured — even to his family. It’s not just that he doesn’t fit, he can’t even explain how he doesn’t fit. Similarly, this same message can be found in the following quote: “It is I of course that has changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had only been in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find that I do not belong here anymore, it is a foreign world” (168). Here, Paul recognizes the dramatic transformation that he has undergone in his war experience. He no longer connects with his family and friends at home, but can only understand the fear and violence of war. Remarque chooses the diction “crushed” to show the extent of Paul’s loss of connection with society. Paul has, in essence, become isolated by his experience of the brutality of war from the foreign world that is civilian society. His inability to connect with his friends at home shows a loss of connection with society itself.

In addition, to society, Paul can no longer connect with himself. Remarque can convey the loss of innocence theme by revealing Paul’s newfound inner struggles. Due to the brutality of war, Paul has lost his purpose. Originally an artistic, intelligent, engaging, and creative boy, upon returning home on leave it is discovered just how much he has changed. “I stand there dumb. As before a judge. Dejected. Words, words, words —they do not reach me” (173). With a unique diction and the use of words such as “dejected”, Remarque can show how foreign Paul’s former self has become. Paul is suddenly unable to feel the passion for his books he felt before. This quote also happens to be the only part of the story where Remarque changes his syntax. Breaking into poetry, he creates a new line for almost every word. His purpose behind this was to show how shocking this discovery was to Paul and represent how chaotic Paul’s thoughts have become. able to co-lose the innocence theme by exemplifying Paul’s newfound lack of humanity. When Paul’s commander orders his regiment to charge, he describes the experience as a brutal one: “We have become wild beasts. We do not fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation.

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It is not against men that we fling our bombs, what do we know of men at this moment when death is hunting us down” (113). Two messages are being transmitted here. Firstly, Remarque uses a unique poetic device known as Reverse Anthropomorphism to compare the men to “wild beasts”. He does this to show that war will strip you of your consciousness, force you to become lax towards horrific things, and revert you to your primal instincts. Secondly, Remarque personifies death to “hunt them down”. This is used both as Paul’s justification for their behavior and for the readers to understand just how cutthroat war is. It’s kill or be killed. Overall, this quote reveals the disintegration of Paul’s humanity. Humanity is what defines him, so remarque taking it away shows that was will turn you into mindless and heartless slaves. Remarque can convey the loss of innocence theme by displaying the disintegration of Paul’s hope and his lack of will to live. Halfway through the novel, Paul makes a revelation. It becomes clear to him that the war has turned him and his comrades into the lost generation and that all hope is lost for them. “We are forlorn like children and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial and believe we are lost Because Paul and other soldiers of his generation have matured in the war before they were ready, they have become hopeless. At a young age, Paul and the so-called “lost generation” have seen men with their limbs blown off, and had their innocence taken from them too early. This is what Remarque means when he juxtaposes “children” with “old men”. Paul and his comrades are unable to move past the war, and therefore, are no longer driven by their life of purpose before the war. Paul, as part of this uncertain generation, can no longer hope for his life’s purposes before the war, and therefore, has lost his identity. This was an important scene because once Paul lost hope, he lost his will to live. Remarque can convey the loss of innocence theme through Paul’s death. “He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come” (296). Everything about this quote was different. For starters, this excerpt was on its page and the POV was switched from 1st to 3rd person in contrast to Remarque’s brutal, gruesome imagery used throughout his book, readers see a change in Remarque’s diction.

The imagery here is eerily peaceful. Paul was glad that he died, that the turmoil of war had ended war caused him to lose everyone he ever cared about including himself. Readers would expect a chapter dedicated to Paul’s death, but instead, receive one line “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Remarque chooses to end the story this way to dehumanize Paul as he dehumanizes others and to show that he is just one dead soldier out of millions. With this evidence, it can be concluded that the horrors of war shatter an individual, leaving the self and the soul disfigured.

The trauma of warfare entails a loss of purpose, humanity, emotion, and connection to society, all of which lead to a loss of identity. The brutality of war robbed Paul Bommer of all these essential connections, to his own identity, the artistic, innocent youth. By destroying the basic elements of Paul’s self, war has obliterated his innocence. This is war and turmoil. So long as war suppresses these basic elements of the self, the affected individuals remain shells of their former selves. The bottom line that Remarque wanted to convey with this writing is that war wreaks havoc and causes irreparable damage to one’s innocence.

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