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The Problem of Language in "All Quiet on the Western Front"

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 06:28 AM
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For it is no easy undertaking, I say, to describe the bottom of the Universe; nor is it for tongues

that only

    babble child’s play.

    (The Inferno, XXXII, 7-9.)


Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel set in World War I, centers around the


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


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


pre- and post-enlistment societies. Baumer either can not, or chooses not to, communicate truthfully with


representatives of his pre-enlistment and innocent days. Further, he is repulsed by the banal and


language that is used by members of that society. As he becomes alienated from his former, traditional,


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...


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