All Quiet on the Western Front Introduction
In A Nutshell
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All Quiet on the Western Front tells the story of six German soldiers who volunteered to fight in World War I, and it chronicles their demise intellectually, spiritually, and physically. The novel is told from the perspective of one incredibly observant young soldier, Paul Bäumer, who exposes details of life on the Western Front – from gas attacks, to fatal illnesses, to rat infestations. Best known for its portrayal of the horrors of trench warfare, All Quiet on the Western Front explores the necessity and purpose of war. In America, All Quiet on the Western Front remains one of the most popular novels addressing WWI, even in spite of the fact that the story is told from the perspective of America's WWI enemy's – a German soldier. American journalist Henry Louis Mencken described the novel as "unquestionably the best story of the World War" (source).
Author Erich Maria Remarque himself had fought on the Western Front (take a look at a map of the front lines here) when he was eighteen years old, and he suffered several injuries (source). The horrors of what he witnessed as a soldier stuck with him. Some passionate emotions were stirred on November 10, 1928, when Remarque published the first installment of the novel in Vossische Zeitung, a German magazine. Many readers immediately noticed that the novel called into question the values set forth by Nazi Germany's "fatherland" propaganda. All Quiet on the Western Front was banned and burned in Germany along with hundreds of other books with similar themes.
Over one million copies of All Quiet on the Western Front were sold in Germany when it was published in its entirety in 1929. The Nazis, who were rising in power, hated its grim portrayal of war. They publicly burned it. Gangs of Nazis descended upon the theater where the 1930 film premiered in Berlin. In 1938, Remarque lost his German citizenship. He eventually moved to Switzerland and, later, to the United States. Over time the novel was translated into twenty languages, provoking a range of emotions and discussions on war around the world (source).
Why Should I Care?
All Quiet on the Western Front gives us a different perspective on World War I than our history books might allow. Through this novel we get to hear the thoughts of a German soldier in WWI, an enemy of the United States and its allied forces. We cannot help but sympathize with our "enemy," and we cannot help but ask ourselves what exactly an enemy is. Paul Bäumer, the narrator of this story, helps us to question reasons why countries go to war. Today, wars are fought in very different ways, but we can easily imagine a young man or woman like Paul exploring similar issues of identity, patriotism, mortality, and dreams.