All Quiet On The Western Front: A Literary Analysis

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With the end of a world war comes the beginning of rebuilding---picking up the pieces and returning, or at least trying to return, to normalcy. It is when the smoke finally clears that the true damage can be assessed. Yet, for authors like Erich Maria Remarque and Kurt Vonnegut, it is the damage that can’t be seen, the damage that lingers, the damage that clearly has a start but no end, that is the worst. In 1929, Remarque channeled those lingering remnants of his time as a German soldier in World War I through the physical and mental tumult of Paul Bäumer in All Quiet on the Western Front. Forty years later, Vonnegut expressed the lasting impression World War II had on him through Billy Pilgrim’s adventures across time in Slaughterhouse Five. …show more content…

In Slaughterhouse Five, when faced with a horrifying or otherwise sad event, Billy simply responds “So it goes” (Vonnegut 35). Throughout the book, whenever something tragic or upsetting occurs, Billy brushes it aside by repeating these words. He dismisses the horror, rather than facing it, because it is the only way he knows how to cope with what he has experienced. “So it goes.” which appears 106 times in the novel, is a distinct example of Billy’s inability to cope with the atrocities of his experience in war. His desensitization is both an example of his struggles during the war and the PTSD that haunts him every day thereafter. If a soldier were to absorb every horror he saw, he would be incapable of surviving much longer than the war itself. Comparing Billy’s life of misery after World War II to those who were brutally slaughtered begs the question of who had the better end---the man who died young, or the man who, while still alive, doesn’t know how to live? The answer that Vonnegut conveys is that neither man wins. In war, there are no winners. Only those who escaped with the least amount of pain. In All Quiet on the Western Front, rather than dismissing the atrocities he has seen, Paul contemplates his life realizing “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over …show more content…

Paul and his friends consider their efforts in fighting and realize "It's queer, when one thinks about it...we are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now who's in the right?” (Remarque 203) In war, it is easy to forget that no one believes themselves to be the “bad guys.” It is believed that each respective side is fighting for what’s right, which makes those in opposition in the wrong. If both sides of any conflict believe that the other side is “wrong,” no one can ever be truly “right.” The irony of being unable to identify a “right” and “wrong” side of World War I solidifies Remarque’s message that war is a purposeless entity that does nothing but destroy. His message applies to a broader philosophy that there is truly no reason to kill one another. The soldiers attempt to come to an answer asking, “Then what exactly is the war for?” and realizing, “There must be some people to whom the war is useful. ‘Well, I'm not one of them,’ grins Tjaden. ‘Not you, nor anybody else here’” (Remarque 205). In this exchange, Tjaden calls into question the reason for their fighting, pointing out that the soldiers who fight in the war have little use for it. They are not the ones who gain power and land, but are rather the ones who lose their lives to protect a thankless country. Remarque uses the irony of soldiers

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