The Problem Of Language In & # 8220 ; All Quiet On The Western Front & # 8221 ; Essay, Research Paper
German Literature The Problem of Language in & # 8220 ; All Quiet on the Western Front & # 8221 ; For it is no easy project, I say, to depict the underside of the Universe ; nor is it for linguas that merely babble kid & # 8217 ; s drama. ( The Inferno, XXXII, 7-9. ) Erich Maria Remarque & # 8217 ; s All Quiet on the Western Front, a fresh set in World War I, centres around the alterations wrought by the war on one immature German soldier. During his clip in the war, Remarque & # 8217 ; s supporter, Paul Baumer, alterations from a instead guiltless Romantic to a hardened and slightly acerb veteran. More significantly, during the class of this metabolism, Baumer disaffiliates himself from those social icons & # 8211 ; parents, seniors, school, faith & # 8211 ; that had been the foundation of his pre-enlistment yearss. This rejection comes approximately as a consequence of Baumer & # 8217 ; s realisation that the pre-enlistment society merely does non understand the world of the Great War. His new society, so, becomes the Company, his fellow trench soldiers, because that is a group which does understand the truth as Baumer has experienced it. Remarque demonstrates Baumer & # 8217 ; s disaffiliation from the traditional by stressing the linguistic communication of Baumer & # 8217 ; s pre- and post-enlistment societies. Baumer either can non, or chooses non to, pass on truthfully with those representatives of his pre-enlistment and guiltless yearss. Further, he is repulsed by the commonplace and nonmeaningful linguistic communication that is used by members of that society. As he becomes alienated from his former, traditional, society, Baumer at the same time is able to pass on efficaciously merely with his military companions. Since the novel is told from the first individual point of position, the reader can see how the words Baumer speaks are at discrepancy with his true feelings. In his foreword to the novel, Remarque maintains that & # 8220 ; a coevals of work forces & # 8230 ; were destroyed by the war & # 8221 ; ( Remarque, All Quiet Preface ) . Indeed, in All Quiet on the Western Front, the significance of linguistic communication itself is, to a great extent, destroyed. Early in the novel, Baumer notes how his seniors had been facile with words prior to his hitch. Specifically, instructors and parents had used words, passionately at times, to carry him and other immature work forces to enlist in the war attempt. After associating the narrative of a instructor who exhorted his pupils to enlist, Baumer states that & # 8220 ; instructors ever carry their feelings ready in their vest pockets, and jog them out by the hr & # 8221 ; ( Remarque, All Quiet I. 15 ) . Baumer admits that he, and others, were fooled by this rhetorical hocus-pocus. Parents, excessively, were non antipathetic to utilizing words to dishonor their boies into enlisting. & # 8220 ; At that clip even one & # 8217 ; s parents were ready with the word & # 8216 ; coward & # 8217 ; & # 8221 ; ( Remarque, All Quiet I. 15 ) . Remembering those yearss, Baumer asserts that, as a consequence of his war experiences, he has learned how shallow the usage of these words was. Indeed, early in his hitch, Baumer comprehends that although authorization figures taught that responsibility to one & # 8217 ; s state is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that, we were no mutineers, no apostates, no cowards & # 8211 ; they were really free with these looks. We loved our state every bit much as they ; we went bravely into every action ; but besides we distinguished the false from true, we had all of a sudden learned to see. ( Remarque, All Quiet I. 17 ) What Baumer and his companions have learned is that the words and looks used by the pillars of society do non reflect the world of war and of one & # 8217 ; s engagement in it. As the novel progresses, Baumer himself uses words in a likewise false manner. A figure of cases of Baumer & # 8217 ; s ain abuse of linguistic communication occur during an of import episode in the novel & # 8211 ; a period of leave when he visits his place town. This leave is black for Baumer because he realizes that he can non pass on with the people on the place forepart because of his military experiences and their limited, or nonexistent, apprehension of the war. When he foremost enters his house, for illustration, Baumer is overwhelmed at being place. His joy and alleviation are such that he can non talk ; he can merely cry ( Remarque, All Quiet VII. 140 ) . When he and his female parent greet each other, he realizes instantly that he has nil to state to her: & # 8220 ; We say really small and I am grateful that she asks nil & # 8221 ; ( Remarque, All Quiet VII. 141 ) . But eventually she does talk to him and asks, & # 8220 ; & # 8216 ; Was it really bad out at that place, Paul? & # 8217 ; & # 8221 ; ( Remarque, All Quiet VII. 143 ) . Here, when he answers, he lies, apparently to protect her from hearing of the helter-skelter conditions from which he has merely returned. He thinks to himself, Mother, what should I reply to that! You would non understand, you could ne’er recognize it. And you ne’er shall recognize it. Was it bad, you ask. & # 8211 ; You, Mother, & # 8211 ; I shake my caput and say: & # 8220 ; No, Mother, non so really. There are ever a batch of us together so it isn & # 8217 ; t so bad. & # 8221 ; ( Remarque, All Quiet VII. 143 ) Even in seeking to protect her, by utilizing words that are false, Baumer creates a separation between his female parent and himself. Clearly, as Baumer sees it, such cognition is non for the naive. On another degree, nevertheless, Baumer can non react to his female parent & # 8217 ; s inquiry: he understands that the experiences he has had are so overpowering that a & # 8220 ; civilian & # 8221 ; linguistic communication, or any linguistic communication at all, would be uneffective in depicting them. Trying to retroflex the experience and horrors of the war via words is impossible, Baumer realizes, and so he lies. Any effort at stating the truth would, in fact, trivialise its world. During the class of his leave, Baumer besides sees his male parent. The fact that he does non wish to talk with his parent ( i.e. , utilize few or no words at all ) shows Baumer & # 8217 ; s motion off from the traditional establishment of the household. Baumer studies that his male parent & # 8220 ; is funny [ about the war ] in a manner that I find stupid and straitening ; I no longer have any existent contact with him & # 8221 ; ( Remarque, All Quiet VII. 146 ) . In sing the demands of his male parent to discourse the war, Baumer, one time once more, realizes the impossibleness, and, in this instance, even the danger, of seeking to associate the world of the war via linguistic communication. There is nil he likes more than merely hearing about it. I realize he does non cognize that a adult male can non speak of such things ; I would make it volitionally, but it is excessively unsafe for me to set these things into words. I am afraid they might so go mammoth and I be no longer able to get the hang them. ( Remarque, All Quiet VII. 146 ) Again, Baumer notes the impossibleness of doing the experience of war meaningful within a verbal context: the war is excessively large, the words depicting it would hold to be correspondingly huge and, with their symbolic size, might go unmanageable and, therefore, meaningless. While with his male parent, Baumer meets other work forces who are certain that they know how to contend and win the war. Ultimately, Baumer says of his male parent and of these work forces that & # 8220 ; they talk excessively much for me & # 8230 ; They understand of class, they agree, they may even experience it so excessively, but merely with words, merely with words & # 8221 ; ( Remarque, All Quiet VII. 149 ) . Baumer is driven off from the older work forces because he understands that the words of his male parent & # 8217 ; s coevals are meaningless in that they do non reflect the worlds of the universe and of the war as Baumer has come to understand them. Besides during his leave, Baumer visits the female parent of a fallen companion, Kemmerich. As he did with his ain female parent, he lies, this clip in an effort to screen her from the inside informations of her boy & # 8217 ; s lingering decease. Furthermore, in this conversation, we see Baumer rejecting yet another 1 of the traditional society & # 8217 ; s foundations: spiritual orthodoxy. He assures Kemmerich & # 8217 ; s female parent that her boy & # 8220 ; & # 8216 ; died instantly. He felt perfectly nil at all. His face was rather unagitated & # 8217 ; & # 8221 ; ( Remarque, All Quiet VII. 160 ) . Frau Kemmerich doesn & # 8217 ; t believe him, or, at least, chooses non to. She asks him to curse & # 8220 ; by everything that is sacred to & # 8221 ; him ( that is, to God, every bit far as she is concerned ) that what he says is true ( Remarque, All Quiet VII. 160 ) . He does so easy because he realizes that nil is sacred to him. By corrupting this curse, Baumer shows both his involuntariness to pass on candidly with a member of the place forepart and his rejection of the God of that society. Therefore, another interruption with an facet of his pre-enlistment society is effected through Baumer & # 8217 ; s witting abuse of linguistic communication. During his leave, possibly Baumer & # 8217 ; s most dramatic realisation of the vacuum of words in his former society occurs when he is entirely in his old room in his parents & # 8217 ; house. After being unsuccessful in experiencing a portion of his old society by talking with his female parent and his male parent and his male parent & # 8217 ; s friends, Baumer attempts to reaffiliate with his yesteryear by one time once more going a occupant of the topographic point. Here, among his souvenir, the images and post cards on the wall, the familiar and comfy brown leather couch, Baumer delaies for something that will let him to experience a portion of his pre-enlistment universe. It is his old textbooks that symbolize that older, more brooding, less military universe and which Baumer hopes will convey him back to his younger guiltless ways. I want that quiet ecstasy once more. I want to experience the same powerful, unidentified impulse that I used to experience when I turned to my books. The breath of desire that so originate from the colored dorsums of the books, shall make full me once more, melt the heavy, dead ball of lead that lies someplace in me and rouse once more the restlessness of the hereafter, the speedy joy in the universe of idea, it shall
bring back again the lost eagerness of my youth. I sit and wait. (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 151) But Baumer continues to wait and the sign does not come; the quiet rapture does not occur. The room itself, and the pre-enlistment world it represents, become alien to him. “A sudden feeling of foreignness suddenly rises in me. I cannot find my way back” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 152). Baumer understands that he is irredeemably lost to the primitive, military, non-academic world of the war. Ultimately, the books are worthless because the words in them are meaningless. “Words, Words, Words–they do not reach me. Slowly I place the books back in the shelves. Nevermore” (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 153). In his experiences with traditional society, Baumer perverts language, that which separates the human from the beast, to the point where it has no meaning. Baumer shows his rejection of that traditional society by refusing to, or being unable to, use the standards of its language. Contrasted with Baumer’s experiences during his visit home are his dealings with his fellow trench soldiers. Unlike Baumer’s feelings at home where he chooses not to speak with his father and makes an empty vow to Frau Kemmerich, Baumer is able to effect true communication, of both a verbal and spiritual kind, with his fellow trench soldiers. Indeed, within this group, words can have a meaningful, soothing, even rejuvenating, effect. Not long after his return from leave, Baumer and some of his comrades go out on patrol to ascertain the enemy’s strength. During this patrol, Baumer is pinned down in a shell hole, becomes disoriented, and suffers a panic attack. He states: “Tormented, terrified, in my imagination, I see the grey, implacable muzzle of a rifle which moves noiselessly before me whichever way I try to turn my head” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 184-85). He is unable to regain his equanimity until he hears voices behind him. He recognizes the voices and realizes that he is close to his comrades in his own trench. The effect of his fellow soldiers’ words on Baumer is antithetical to the effect his father’s and his father’s friends’ empty words have on him. At once a new warmth flows through me. These voices, these quiet words … behind me recall me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of death by which I had been almost destroyed. They are more to me than life these voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear; they are the strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades. I am no longer … alone in the darkness;– I belong to them and they to me; we all share the same fear and the same life, we are nearer than lovers, in a simpler, a harder way; I could bury my face in them, in these voices, these words that have saved me and will stand by me. (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 186) Here, Baumer understands the reviving effects of his comrades’ words. Strikingly, as opposed to his town’s citizens’ empty words, the words of Baumer’s comrades actually go beyond their literal meanings. That is, whereas Baumer notices that the words of the traditional world have no meaning, the words of his comrades have more meaning than even they are aware of. In fact, true communication can exist in the world of the war with few or no words said at all. This phenomenon is perhaps best demonstrated in the novel during a scene involving Baumer and his Second Company mate, Stanislaus Katczinsky. This scene, with its Eucharistic overtones, can be counterpoised to Baumer’s meeting with Kemmerich’s mother. During that meeting, Frau Kemmerich insisted on some kind of verbal attestation of Baumer’s spiritual disposition. As noted above, he is quite willing to give her such an asseveration because the words he uses in doing so mean nothing to him. With Katczinsky, though, the situation is different because the spirituality of the event is such that words are not necessary, in fact, would be hindrances to the communion Baumer and Katczinsky attain. The scene is a simple one. After Baumer and Katczinsky have stolen a goose, in a small deserted lean-to they eat it together. We sit opposite one another, Kat and I, two soldiers in shabby coats, cooking a goose in the middle of the night. We don’t talk much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have … The grease drips from our hands, in our hearts we are close to one another … we sit with a goose between us and feel in unison, are so intimate that we do not even speak. (Remarque, All Quiet V. 87) These elemental and primitive activities of getting and then eating food bring about a communion, a feeling “in unison,” between the two men that clearly cannot be found in the word-heavy environment of Baumer’s home town. Perhaps Remarque wants to make the point that true communication can occur only in action, or in silence, or almost accidentally. At any rate, Baumer demonstrates toward the end of his life that even he is not immune from verbal duplicity of a kind that was used on him to get him to enlist. Soon after he hears the comforting words of his comrades (see above), Baumer is caught in another shell hole during the bombardment. Here, he is forced to kill a Frenchman who jumps into it while attacking the German lines. Baumer is horrified at his action. He notes, “This is the first time I have killed with my hands, whom I can see close at hand, whose death is my doing” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 193). That is, the war, and his part in it, have become much more personalized because now he can actually see the face of his enemy. In his grief, Baumer takes the dead man’s pocket-book from him so that he can find out the deceased’s name and family situation. Realizing that the man he killed is no monster, that, in fact, he had a family, and is evidently very much like himself, Baumer begins to make promises to the corpse. He indicates that he will write to his family and goes so far as to promise the corpse that he, Baumer, will take his place on earth: “‘I have killed the printer, Gerard Duval. I must be a printer’” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 197). More importantly, Baumer renounces his status as soldier by apologizing to the corpse for killing him. “Comrade, I did not want to kill you … You were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed … Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat …” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 195) In addition to the obvious brotherhood of nations sentiment that appears in Baumer’s eulogy, it is interesting to note that Baumer sees that Duval could have been even closer–like Katczinsky, a member of Baumer’s inner circle of Second Company. All of the sentiments, all of the words, that Baumer articulates to Duval are admirable, but they are absolutely false. As time passes, as he spends more time with the corpse of Duval in the shell-hole, Baumer realizes that he will not fulfill the various promises he has made. He cannot write to Duval’s family; it would be beyond impropriety to do so. Moreover, Baumer renounces his brotherhood sentiments: “Today you, tomorrow me” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 197). Soon, Baumer admits, “I think no more of the dead man, he is of no consequence to me now” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 198). And later, to hedge his bets in case there happens to be justice in the universe, Baumer states, “Now merely to avert any ill-luck, I babble mechanically: ‘I will fulfill everything, fulfill everything I have promised you–’ but already I know that I shall not do so” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 198). Remarque’s point in this episode is clear: no one is exempt from the perversion of language vis-a-vis the war. Even Paul Baumer, who had been disgusted by the meaninglessness of language as demonstrated in his home town, himself uses words and language that are meaningless. Once he is reunited with his comrades after the shell hole episode, Baumer admits “it was mere drivelling nonsense that I talked out there in the shell-hole” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 199). Why does Baumer do it? Why does he employ the same types of vacuous words and sentiments that his elders and teachers had used and for which he has no respect? “It was only because I had to lie [One assumes that this double meaning is apparent only in English.] there with him so long … After all, war is war” (Remarque, All Quiet IX. 200). Ultimately, that is all that Paul Baumer and the reader are left with: war is war. It cannot be defined; it cannot even be discussed with any accuracy. It has no sense and, in fact, is the embodiment of a lack of any kind of meaning. In All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque shows the disorder created by the war. This disorder affects such elemental societal institutions as the family, the schools, and the church. Moreover, the war is so chaotic that it infects the basic abilities, not the least of which is verbal, of humanity itself. By showing how the First World War deleteriously affects the syntax of language, Remarque is able to demonstrate how the war irreparably alters the order of the world itself. WORK CITED Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. New York: Ballantine Books, 1984.