All Quiet on the Western Front provides an honest and unbiased fictional account of an aspect of World War I from the perspective of 20 year old Paul, a German soldier in a company which includes three of his school friends, who remained together after the recruitment of their entire class into service. Within the first ten pages of the novel the author initiates the reader to themes of death, isolation, hunger and comradeship, while introducing a sleep deprived company that has lost nearly half of its men on the day they were due back at their barracks from the front. The front referred to in the novel is “between Flanders and the Vosges” and the imagery of battle alters from the beauty of the rocket lights in the night sky to the brutal and terrifying destruction of life and the earth.
We see the transformation of Paul and his comrades from young students and workers, into battle weary men whose demeanour and psyche change each time they return to the front. They rely on a guttural instinct and draw on the brutality of their training which served to desensitise them to the horrors encountered on the battle field. Their lives become a waiting game, waiting for action or waiting to die, relying on chance as they contemplate their lives after the war in rat infested trenches and apply their individual coping mechanisms to manage the devastation they are constantly exposed to.
Whilst the novel is easy to read in length, it still encompasses a raft of emotion in its succinct format, touching on prisoners of war, the changing fortunes and role reversals of men and post traumatic stress disorder (though not specified as such). When the protagonist returns to his home town during leave he is aware of the stark contrast between the soldiers and the civilians trying to go about their normal lives in a time of war, feeling detracted from his family and previous life.
Remarque paints a vivid picture of what life was like on the Western Front of the war, in which millions of soldiers died.