All Quiet On The Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel set in World War I, centers around the
changes wrought by the war on one young German soldier. During his time in the
war, Remarque’s protagonist, Paul Baumer, changes from a rather innocent

Romantic to a hardened and somewhat caustic veteran. More importantly, during
the course of this metamorphosis, Baumer disaffiliates himself from those
societal icons—parents, elders, school, religion—that had been the
foundation of his pre-enlistment days. This rejection comes about as a result of

Baumer’s realization that the pre-enlistment society simply does not
understand the reality of the Great War. His new society, then, 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’s disaffiliation from the traditional by emphasizing the language of

Baumer’s pre- and post-enlistment societies. Baumer either can not, or chooses
not to, communicate truthfully with those representatives of his pre-enlistment
and innocent days. Further, he is repulsed by the banal and meaningless language
that is used by members of that society. As he becomes alienated from his
former, traditional, society, Baumer simultaneously is able to communicate
effectively only with his military comrades. Since the novel is told from the
first person point of view, the reader can see how the words Baumer speaks are
at variance with his true feelings. In his preface to the novel, Remarque
maintains that "a generation of men ... were destroyed by the war" (Remarque,

All Quiet Preface). Indeed, in All Quiet on the Western Front, the meaning of
language itself is, to a great extent, destroyed. Early in the novel, Baumer
notes how his elders had been facile with words prior to his enlistment.

Specifically, teachers and parents had used words, passionately at times, to
persuade him and other young men to enlist in the war effort. After relating the
tale of a teacher who exhorted his students to enlist, Baumer states that
"teachers always carry their feelings ready in their waistcoat pockets, and
trot them out by the hour" (Remarque, All Quiet I. 15). Baumer admits that
he, and others, were fooled by this rhetorical trickery. Parents, too, were not
averse to using words to shame their sons into enlisting. "At that time
even one’s parents were ready with the word ‘coward’" (Remarque, All

Quiet I. 15). Remembering those days, Baumer asserts that, as a result of his
war experiences, he has learned how shallow the use of these words was. Indeed,
early in his enlistment, Baumer comprehends that although authority figures
taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that
death-throes are stronger. But for all that, we were no mutineers, no deserters,
no cowards—they were very free with these expressions. We loved our country as
much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished
the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. (Remarque, All Quiet I. 17)

What Baumer and his comrades have learned is that the words and expressions used
by the pillars of society do not reflect the reality of war and of one’s
participation in it. As the novel progresses, Baumer himself uses words in a
similarly false fashion. A number of instances of Baumer’s own misuse of
language occur during an important episode in the novel—a period of leave when
he visits his home town. This leave is disastrous for Baumer because he realizes
that he can not communicate with the people on the home front because of his
military experiences and their limited, or nonexistent, understanding of the
war. When he first enters his house, for example, Baumer is overwhelmed at being
home. His joy and relief are such that he cannot speak; he can only weep (Remarque,

All Quiet VII. 140). When he and his mother greet each other, he realizes
immediately that he has nothing to say to her: "We say very little and I am
thankful that she asks nothing" (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 141). But finally
she does speak to him and asks, "’Was it very bad out there,

Paul?’" (Remarque, All Quiet VII. 143). Here, when he answers, he lies,
ostensibly to protect her from hearing of the chaotic conditions from which he
has just returned. He thinks tohimself, Mother, what should I answer to that!

You would not understand, you could never realize it. And you never shall
realize it. Was it bad, you ask.—You, Mother,--I shake my head and say:
"No, Mother, not so very. There are always a lot of us together