All Quiet on the Western Front
How we cite our quotes:
The days, the weeks, the years out here shall come back again, and our dead comrades shall then stand up again and march with us, our heads shall be clear, we shall have a purpose, and so we shall march, our dead comrades beside us, the years at the Front behind us: – against whom, against whom? (7.11)
What is Paul suggesting here? Who will march and what will they march for, exactly? The soldiers crave a sense of humanity. They do not seem to have a concrete reason compelling them to fight and to kill. The language is here is pretty strong. It almost reads like a famous speech. We could even imagine these words being spoken in more modern times.
On the platform I look round; I know no one among the people hurrying to and fro. A Red Cross sister offers me something to drink. I turn away, she smiles at me too foolishly, so obsessed with her own importance: "Just look, I am giving a solder coffee!" – She calls me "Comrade," but I will have none of it. (7.95)
Paul comes across many people who seem more concerned with the image of the war than the actuality of the war. A nun even, in this instance, is caught up in the performance of help. In what ways is the war Paul describes like a performance? In what ways is it not at all?
[Paul's German master] dismisses the idea loftily and informs me I know nothing about it. "The details, yes," says he, "but this relates to the whole. And of that you are not able to judge. You see only your little sector and so cannot have any general survey. You do your duty, you risk your lives, that deserves the highest honour – every man of you ought to have the Iron Cross – but first of all the enemy line must be broken through in Flanders and then rolled up in the top." (7.169)
At this moment we realize that our narrator does indeed have a skewed vision of the war. He only knows his own experience. Paul's German master believes it is more important to have a large perspective on war than to only know the details. Do you agree? Is Paul's perspective too limited to be trustworthy?