All Quiet on the Western Front
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The parachute-lights shoot upwards – and I see a picture, a summer evening, I am in the cathedral cloister and look at the tall rose trees that bloom in the middle of the little cloister garden where the monks lie buried. Around the walls are the stone carvings of the Stations of the Cross. No one is there. A great quietness rules in this blossoming quadrangle, the sun lies warm on the heavy grey stones, I place my hand upon them and feel the warmth. At the right-hand corner the green cathedral spire ascends into the pale blue sky of the evening. Between the glowing columns of the cloister is the cool darkness that only churches have, and I stand there and wonder whether, when I am twenty, I shall have experienced the bewildering emotions of love (6.93)
The presence of this ancient cathedral in Paul's memory makes us think about the idea of religion in this novel. What examples of religion do we see? Are you surprised that there isn't more discussion of religion? Do the soldiers believe in a higher power? There's something very mysterious in this memory in which Paul's youth, his curiosity, and his hunger for his future all converge in a holy place in which people are respectfully buried. This memory forms such a contrast to his current context.
I breathe deeply and say over to myself: "You are at home; you are at home." But a sense of strangeness will not leave me, I can find nothing of myself in all these things. There is my mother, there is my sister, there is my case of butterflies, and there is the mahogany piano – but I am not myself there. There is a distance, a veil between us. (7.127)
Where does this veil come from? If Paul were able to spend more time at home, do you think this strangeness would ever leave him? Or do you think he will forever be lost?
Here my thoughts stop and will not go any farther. All that meets me, all that floods over me are but feelings – greed of life, love of home, yearning of the blood, intoxication of deliverance. But no aims. (12.4)
Why doesn't Paul have any aims at this point? Paul seems to continually try to suppress his feelings at witnessing the deaths of his friends and other horrors of the war, but in this moment, he tells us that "feelings" flood over him. Are these feelings that he's previously tried to suppress? How has he changed?