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All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front


by Erich Maria Remarque

Analysis: Writing Style

Direct, Edgy, Reserved

Remarque's style involves lots of small words and small phrases. Think about tone in this novel as being gunfire when Paul is on the front lines and violin playing when he's off. The predominant vibe is sparseness, though. The author doesn't waste too many words and, in many cases, he skips weeks of pages with a single detail that moves the timeline dramatically forward in a phrase. He doesn't get too emotional over any one friend's death. He continues to drive the story forward in a way that makes it very hard for us to stop reading. There's a movement and a rhythm to the sentence structures of this novel. Let's just say that, if the prose were shirtless, you'd see a six-pack.

Consider our narrator's final words:

The life that has borne me through these years is still in my hands and my eyes. Whether I have subdued it, I know not. But so long as it is there it will seek its own way out, heedless of the will that is within me. (12.10)

There is a very matter-of-fact, almost confident nature to this language. The speaker is certain of what he knows, and does not feel the need to riddle his prose with any extra words, any flowery adjectives. In fact, there is only one adjective in this entire passage: "heedless." Similarly, Paul is heedless of our desire to know more. He doesn't budge and spill his emotional beans. We know there must be a lot going on in his mind at this point, but he will not say more than is necessary. He is sparing with his words.

Lastly, we must also remember the fact that the book was originally written in German, and was then translated. There may have been noodles lost in the disbursement of the soup, if you catch our drift. There is something distinctly un-American about this beautiful prose. Because of this, we suppose that a good deal of the rhythms and meanings of the German language were not lost in translation.

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