All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
First Person (Central Narrator) and Third Person (Objective)
All Quiet on the Western Front is Paul's story, and is told through a first-person lens. He tells it. He lives it. He dies for it. And we trust him. Paul balances grim truths about the life experiences he is surviving and the factual detailing of the events of life on the front lines of the most brutal war in history.
The narration has a set of rhythms, which are repeated: a philosophical frame generally sets up a series of detailed events, and then conclusions are drawn from those events, with a politically critical viewpoint. For example, consider the novel's first chapter. Paul describes the act of returning from the Front and fighting for a big dinner. Next, he tells us about visiting Kemmerich in the hospital, suggesting how pointless war can be when one so young has to die so painfully. At the end of the chapter, Paul attacks his country's image of the "Iron Youth," saying, "Yes, and that's the way they think, these hundred thousand Kantoreks! Iron Youth. Youth! We are none of us more than twenty years old. But young? Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk" (1.106). He pulls apart the very ideal at the heart of Germany.
Paul is intimate – the reader feels his shyness and his pains in telling of the gore and violence. The reader recoils along with Paul, who underscores the inhumanity of war's violence when he is unable to detail certain events too brutal for him to even relay. And his own opinions are never lost – he uses the shallowness of his father's desires for retellings of war glories as a means for punctuating the senseless brutality of this series of events.
The dramatic final two paragraphs are felt even more deeply when they are clearly no longer related by Paul, and we can't help but miss him and his distinctive voice.