Writing All Quiet on the Western Front Essay

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, a Reichswehr veteran,is perhaps the most famous anti-war novel ever written. Set from the perspective of a young German soldier, it carries a clear message that war is brutal, unglamorous and often ultimately pointless. It has been a popular choice for essays for many decades and shows no signs of fading away. If you have to write an essay on the book there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, you need to read the book or see one of the film versions; the 1930 version is closer to the book, so needs less extra reading to track changes. It is almost impossible to make sense of this story from notes.

It's essential to have a clear idea of what your essay will be about. The book contains a number of major themes but it's impossible to cover all of them in a single essay. Pick one and explore it in depth; this will make for a more interesting paper as well avoid confusing your readers with multiple issues. Here are some suggested themes:

  1. Nationalism as a cause of war. The narrator, Paul Bäumer, and his friends join the army partly because of the nationalistic lectures of the teacher Kantorek. Nationalism was an extremely powerful force in Europe through the first half of the 20th century and played a part in causing both the First and Second World Wars. What effect has this had on modern European politics and how does it contrast with countries less affected by the war, like the USA?
  2. The brutality of combat. In fiction, combat is often portrayed (even now) as a thrilling adventure. For many professional soldiers it is, but Bäumer and his friends are part of a mass citizen army. As the war goes on the initial volunteers are replaced by conscripts who didn't ask to be there. The reality of combat is appalling; death comes unexpectedly from artillery or a sniper's bullet, and where hand to hand combat isn't made impossible by the power of machineguns it is a squalid, vicious affair.
  3. How soldiers bond with each other and the effect of deaths. Bäumer's situation is almost intolerable; it would be intolerable without his friends. As the war turns against Germany his group begins to dwindle. The death of Kat finally leaves him alone.
  4. The mental destruction of survivors. Remarque dedicated the book to the people who, although they didn't die, were destroyed by the war. He makes it clear that those who had experienced the front would never be the same again. When Bäumer is finally killed the look on his face makes it appear that "he was almost glad the end had come."

Whatever theme you choose, stick to it and reference others only where it adds to the one you are dealing with. Any one of them will make a long and informative essay in itself, with plenty of opportunity to discuss issues and show your understanding of the subject.

Published on  June 8th, 2016


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