It can sometimes be hard to think about what is most important in our lives
It can sometimes be hard to think about what is most important in our lives. Most times, we chose the things that benefit our own interests rather than taking into consideration the people around us. In the novel All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque presents readers how, in war, camaraderie and friendship can easily overpower individual interests even during difficult times. The soldiers’ friendships are what can keep them alive in the field. The hope is that providing for each other will relieve some of the darkness and destruction found on the front lines.
Throughout the novel, Remarque showed us the “hidden costs” that the soldiers paid. The war did not only break them physically but also destroyed their mental state. We now know this mental effect as PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but back then the only diagnosis for these soldiers was that they were just going crazy, they called it “Shell Shocked.” The medical technology was not advanced in World War I. If one was injured, they would sometimes shoot him to put him, and others, out of the misery of dying painfully. For example, in chapters one and two, Kemmerich is laying in a hospital bed and realizes that his leg has been amputated. Muller asks him if he will take his boots back home with him, but Kemmerich refuses to let any of his comrades take them from him. In chapter two, Kemmerich knows he will die before he can go home to see his mother. The doctor refuses to amputate Kemmerich’s leg because he had already done five that day. This negligence of the doctors and nurses leaves Kemmerich to die in pain and agony and Paul confused and angry. Paul sits by his side watching the tears fall down Kemmerich’s face as he dies. Kemmerich is the first impactful death to Paul and his fellow friends, and you see how it affects them. The cries of a fellow soldier not only angered his comrades but made them think about their own death and pain.
These relationships between the men of the Second Company are described as closer than family or even lovers. The recruits would protect, love and provide moral support to one another just as a family member would do. Katczinsky and Paul have a very close relationship, Katczinsky is kind of a father figure to Paul. In chapter five, Paul and Katczinsky caught a goose and are roasting it over a fire. Paul thinks to himself, “We don’t talk much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have. We are two men, two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death. We sit on the edge of it crouching in danger, the grease drips from our hands, in our hearts we are close to one another,” (page 94) Paul really looks up to Kat, another example of this is on page 95 when Paul says, “I love him, his shoulders, his angular, stooping figure- and at the same time I see behind him woods and stars, and a clear voice utters words that bring me peace,” Paul finds comfort and reassurance in Kat’s voice and image. Even in scenes where they are not in battle, this group of friends supports and protects each other. Because each one knows that in one of their absences they would be more than physically alone.
The camaraderie between the characters has created an intense bond that when the death of a fellow soldier occurs, it sets off a strong emotional trigger from his comrades. When Paul was lost and alone in the trench, afraid of death approaching, he hears his friend’s voices. “At once a new warmth flows through me. These voices, these quiet words, these footsteps in the trench behind me recall me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of death by which I had almost been destroyed. They are more than life, theses voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear; they are the strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades.” (page 212) In the face of hopelessness and uncertain death, Paul relied on his friends to bring him out despair.
Men in war have little time to mourn the death of their friends. Paul has to watch all his friends die during the war. The last of them to die is Kat. Kat’s death clearly is the most devastating to Paul since they had grown so close they were family. In chapter eleven, Paul says, “Do I walk? Have I feet still? I raise my eyes, I let them move around, and turn myself with them, one circle, one circle, and I stand in the midst. All is as usual. Only the Militiaman Stanislaus Katczinsky has died. Then I knew nothing more.” (page 291) Without the interactions and protection of his friends, Paul loses his will to live. Paul feels so alone that he almost gives up because no one can take anything else from him; all he cares about is already gone.
In the last paragraph of the novel, Paul dies. The author illustrates Paul’s death as, “He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face has an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.” (page 296) Paul has found his peace in death knowing that he can see all his fallen friends. He is now with his comrades once again and at peace with his brothers in arms. Paul put his friends over everything during the war, before his own life as well. The Second Company’s friendships saved each other throughout the novel. Sometimes just having someone there to support you through challenging times can be enough to put your own selfish needs behind you.