Hell On Earth
No Man's Land is not the kind of place you want to hang out—but we're guessing you figured that out when you saw that it was called "No Man's Land."
It's a place so hellish that even Virgil wouldn't do personal tours of the place. Due to constant bombardments and barrages of men advancing into machine-gun fire, No Man's Land is a nightmarescape of mud, shell holes, gnarled barbed wire, splintered trees, and, of course, corpses scattered about like seeds thrown onto a field.
To really get a feel for the awfulness of No Man's Land, consider Paul's experience during the German offensive. The church—a holy place where men are meant to gather to worship—is blasted into ruins. The graveyard next to it is hit with shells, literally raising the dead from their graves to mingle among the living.
When Paul takes cover in the crater, he's forced to stab a French soldier. He then attempts to comfort the solider by providing him a drink, but all he has to offer is muddied, bloody water lying stagnant at the bottom of the crater. Even a basic, life-sustaining necessity such as clean water is absent within No Man's Land.
The Grass is Always Greener…Literally Anywhere Away From No Man's Land
In comparison, when the soldiers take leave from the Front, they're often surrounded by pastoral nature. They eat their fill of beans and bread and lie beneath a tree that remains intact rather than uprooted by shell blasts. You know times are tough when "beans and bread" sounds delicious and "intact tree" is a surprising perk.
Another time, the Paul and his comrades find a river to bathe in. With more than enough water to drink, the soldiers get to clean away the dirt and grime that covers them during their time at the Front. Again: these dudes aren't psyched about getting a hot bath filled with Mr. Bubble. They're excited by a cold river.
The differences in the landscape help show how the soldiers' states of mind change—it's all location, location, location. Away from the Front, the landscape can provide the physical needs of the soldier, allowing him to turn his attention to more social considerations. He can discuss the purpose and worth of the war, take care of his body by eating and bathing…and even mac on hawt French girls.
But every aspect of No Man's Land requires the solider to focus on survival, and only survival. Every broken tree, muddied crater, and bombed-out building reminds us that death is an ever-present danger—death of the soldiers, death of nature, death of everything.
Well, expect for disease. Those microorganisms are living it up.