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Joseph Sciuto once declared, “Humanity, the earth with its streams and gardens, animals, and innocence are the real victims of war.” The war affects all manners of life, especially the innocent ones, by corrupting and transmogrifying them into a dehumanized, soulless body with a complete lack of their original character. In his semi-autobiographical novel, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Paul accompanied by his comrades traverses through the many obstacles that the war administered upon them, encountering many deaths mentally and physically along the way. Paul soon realizes the destruction war causes and inflicts upon everything around him and how his comrades exist as mentally destroyed soldiers due to the war. Through the use of death and nature imagery, Erich Maria Remarque conveys the theme of the absolute mental and physical destructiveness of war to reveal how, in reality, war destroys all men, regardless of whether they survive or perish.

Remarque initially expresses the theme of the physical and mental destructiveness of war through the use of death imagery. For instance, while amid the front, Paul notices all the devastation and suffering around him and details this anguish by stating,

“We see a dark group, bearers with stretchers, and larger black clumps moving about. Those are the wounded horses. But not all of them. Some gallop away in the distance, fall, and then run on farther. The belly of one is ripped open, the guts trail out. He becomes tangled in them and falls, then he stands up again” (Remarque, 63).

Remarque gives the ghastly image of the physical and mental destructiveness of war to reveal how war not only affects men but also animals. The idea of animals, who never possessed a choice to join the fight, becoming affected by the carnage of war shows how battle attracts and tortures all living things, especially the innocent. Warfare mentally corrupts and dehumanizes soldiers as shown when Paul refers to the enemy as “a dark group” rather than individual people. Additionally, as Paul slowly makes his way to the front, he notices many structures and communicates what he sees, “On the way we pass a shelled school-house. Stacked up against its longer side is a high double wall of yellow, unpolished, brand-new coffins. They still smell of resin, pine, and the forest. There are at least a hundred” (99). The use of death imagery and descriptions of coffins around Paul helps reveal the physical and mental destructiveness of war where the coffins act as already ready and prepared which indicates how the military officials expect a multitude of deaths. The coffins smelling like pine and forest also imply the recent construction, suggesting the idea that all other coffins were quickly used up as the destructiveness of war results in a large death toll. Likewise, the schoolhouse, symbolic of life and childhood, existing as destroyed due to the shelling shows how war affects soldiers’ minds as war corrupts the personality and lives of soldiers, dehumanizing them. Moreover, soon after Kat dies of a stray splinter, Paul reflects upon warfare’s implications within his life and how the war “can[‘t] take nothing from me, they [war] can take nothing more. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear” (295). Paul realizes how much the war takes away from him: his friends, his comrades, his sense of a normal life, and his humanity. This death imagery within Paul’s mind of feeling completely detached and desolate reveals how mentally destructive war acts upon soldiers by stealing their humanity and personal treasures. As a result, the soldier’s mind becomes dead with no more real physical purpose in life, leading to Paul not fearing the war, foreshadowing his death. Therefore, death imagery manifests the theme of the mental and physical destructiveness of war, implementing the idea of war affecting soldier’s lives in more ways than just physically.

Furthermore, Remarque utilizes nature imagery to illustrate the theme of the mental and physical destructiveness of war. For example, as Kemmerich lies on the brink of death, Paul details the aspects of his dying body by stating,

“Kemmerich nods. I cannot bear to look at his hands, they are like wax. Under the nails is the dirt of the trenches, it shows through blue-black like poison. It strikes me that these nails will continue to grow like lean fantastic cellar plants long after Kemmerich breathes no more. I see the picture before me. They twist themselves into corkscrews and grow and grow, and with them the hair on the decaying skull, just like grass in good soil, just like grass, how can it be possible” (15)?

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The dirt under Kemmerich’s nail reminds Paul of the front and symbolizes how the front never leaves a soldier’s life. Describing Kemmerich’s hands as similar to wax represents his hands melting, manifesting the idea of Kemmerich slowly dying. This image of nature proves the physical and mental destructiveness of war as the soldiers’ minds remain infested with thoughts of the war which they can not get away from, and the physical destruction on the body as shown with Kemmerich indicating similarities with a decaying skull. Furthermore, as Paul remains amid war, firing and bombing sounds arise which trigger him to recognize the importance of the earth to a soldier by stating, “

“To no man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier. When he presses himself down upon her long and powerfully when he buries his face and his limbs deep in her from the fear of death by shell-fire, then she is his only friend, his brother, his mother; he stifles his terror and his cries in her silence and her security; she shelters him and releases him for ten seconds to live, to run, ten seconds of life; receives him again and often forever” (55).

The image of the earth protecting the soldiers by shielding them from the destructiveness of war parallels the idea of a mother protecting their children. However, this protection and safety only lasts a brief amount of time until the soldiers must return to the war and leave the warm embrace of the earth. The war petrifies the soldiers, mentally destroying them into seeking refuge from an inanimate object that they see as a meaningful figure in their life, whom they can not live without. Lastly, as Paul reaches a shelter of reserves, only to turn back again into the horrors of combat, he describes the corrupted earth by stating,

“The brown earth, the torn, blasted earth, with a greasy shine under the sun’s rays; the earth is the background of this restless, gloomy world of automatons, our gasping is the scratching of a quill, our lips are dry, our heads are debauched with stupor–thus we stagger forward, and into our pierced and shattered souls bores the torturing image of the brown earth with the greasy sun and the convulsed and dead soldiers, who lie there–it can’t be helped–who cry and clutch at our legs as we spring away over them” (115-116).

The image of the blasted earth and fatigued soldiers reveals how the war affects not only the men but also the setting and atmosphere around them. By depicting the earth as “brown earth with the greasy sun”, Remarque utilizes how brown symbolizes decay and the greasy sun represents the blood staining the earth which exemplifies the morality of war. Also, the soldiers who remain expressed as convulsing and soul-shattering imply that they suffered before their fatal death, mentally affecting the surviving fighters around them. Thus, nature imagery effectively proves the theme of the physical and mental destructiveness of war, evincing the idea that war affects more than just the soldier.

Throughout the novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque utilizes death and nature imagery to solidify the theme of the complete physical and mental destructive properties of war to acknowledge how even those who survived still suffered from the war. By using nature and death to illustrate the destructiveness of war, Remarque creates powerful images regarding the absolute tragedies of battle. Warfare pollutes soldiers’ minds by dehumanizing and corrupting them, even after the war ends. Remarque emphasizes this mental and physical brutality administered upon all soldiers with a great structure in deathly detail by showing how innocent men fight other innocent men. The result of this brutality causes a loss of morality and the soldiers lose all of what makes them their individual. Thus, the warfare causing the fighting of men leads to pointless deaths and endless tragedies, all for nothing.

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