Choose a novel or short story in which the writer explores feelings of alienation. By referring to appropriate techniques, show how the writer explores these feelings.
The compelling war novel ‘All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, delineates the struggle of life as a soldier on the frontlines. Remarque successfully emphasises the hardships of war and highlights both the immediate, and after effects which caused soldiers to become withdrawn from the rest of society. The apparent callousness of the recruits towards their deceased comrades and their inability to relate to their family or imagine any future away from the trenches, is effective in stressing how the soldiers have had to become alienated from their feelings and identities in order to survive.
It is clear from the descriptive and harrowing narrative that Remarque draws heavily on his own experiences of life in the trenches. It is almost as if Remarque wants to speak for those who could not and to expose the destructive nature of war. In doing so, he criticises the patriotic ideals which were used to glorify war, and instead illustrates the distressing and horrific reality of war that only someone who experienced it first-hand could truly understand. Remarque also portrays how war ruins an individual’s life by alienating them from everything they knew prior to it, making them incapable of expressing their feelings fully and unable to conceive of a future without it.
Through Remarque’s portrayal of the common soldier, he successfully emphasises how they could have been alienated to a cold and callous nature. The soldiers give the impression that they have no compassion towards their fallen comrades as long as they get a good supply of rations resulting in them being alienated from their true feelings. The writer conveys this by illustrating how every soldier knows something has happened to another company but they do not show any remorse: “They won’t be getting served by you today, it’s either a field hospital or mass grave for them.” By showing the reader that they speak so casually about a mass grave, Remarque is able to successfully illustrate how alienated they are from their true feelings. Also due to Paul’s lack of emotion in the scene, it gives the reader the impression that things like the mass grave are relatively common.
Paul’s alienation is further revealed through his obvious detachment from his past, which is caused by his experiences of war, thus highlighting the alienation he and the other soldiers face. Through Paul’s leave of absence Remarque is able to reveal how distant and detached Paul is and how much of a struggle it is to reconnect with his past. He does this through emphasising how the war has killed off all attachment and recognition of his former self. An example of this is Paul not recognising himself in the mirror, telling us that he doesn’t know who he is anymore. This is also made clear when Paul says “I can’t get back, I’m locked out; however much I plead” as it again shows how he can’t get back to how he was when he was younger reading his books that he used to be so interested in. The constant pleading by Paul to reconnect with his past highlights the fact even more that the harder he tries the more impossible it is for him to connect, suggesting his past is just scars to remind him how the war changed him and left him a stranger to himself. Through this, Remarque highlights the dehumanising effect of war, which leads to the soldiers becoming alienated from their past lives.
Remarque also depicts the soldiers’ inability to comprehend or imagine a future, which again highlights the feelings of alienation by locating them firmly in their present and focusing on their constant battle to survive. Occasionally the soldiers discuss the future, but never in any great detail or for any length of time. The majority of them are incapable of imagining any sort of future and the one that wants his to remain in the army. Through Paul’s first-hand account he tells us: “Our knowledge of life is limited to death.” This conveys that they know nothing more than death so how can they imagine anything more.
By graphically exposing the multitude of ways in which the soldiers are destroyed, both mentally and physically, Remarque continues to reveal their feelings of alienation and the obliteration of an entire generation. Through Paul’s first-hand account of war, it is clear that the soldiers have become more animal-like and reliant on their animal instincts. Paul acknowledges this when he says, ‘we march up, moody or good–tempered soldiers – we reach the zone where the front begins and become on the instant human animals.’ The war and being at the front transforms the soldiers immediately and they will do whatever it takes to stay alive. They have almost lost their identity as they don’t know how to be themselves. This is why they refer themselves as the ‘lost generation’ because even though thousands of the soldiers are really lost forever as they got wiped out by the war, the remaining few that were left have lost themselves as a result of the war either through the devastating situations they have been through or just the reality that this is there life and they are never going to be able to get over the fact of war and what it has done to them. However, they are very battle-hardened this is shown as the soldiers don’t seem to be shocked or feel any emotions when one of their men die, to them it has almost before another death just like what people back home see it as. They cannot see a future, for these young men who had great dreams before now see nothing but the war. Through this, Remarque successfully depicts that the soldiers are no longer themselves and have lost their individual identities.
During the climax of the novel, Remarque continues to show Paul’s alienation from his own feelings and his struggle to make sense of the war and the world around him. At this point Paul is forced to confront his ability to kill face-to-face and this causes him to question which side is truly right. While at no-man’s land Paul finds himself alone in a ditch. He realises if anyone comes he must kill them: ‘ I don’t think at all, I make no decision – I just stab wildly and feel only when the body jerks then goes limp and collapses’. This shows that Paul was so isolated and has no feeling towards killing. This also shows that he wants to get the killing over and done with. He must show no compassion otherwise he may be killed himself. Through this, Remarque expertly shows how the soldiers are no longer normal humans and instead have turned into heartless beings which rely purely on animal instincts in order to survive. In shutting off their emotions and losing their identities, they have become alienated from humanity itself and it is difficult to imagine how they could ever overcome this.
At the end of the novel, Remarque manipulates the narrative to emphasise Paul’s alienation at its greatest by switching from the collective plural “we” to the first-person singular “I”. Through Paul’s lack of detail of events Remarque highlights Paul beginning to lose his mind. This is shown when Paul says “we shall no longer be able to cope[…] I am so alone and so devoid of any hope” The change in narrative strongly emphasises the fact that Paul’s character is deteriorating he feels that he has no more hope for the future. This reveals that Paul has been alienated from past, present and future life. Thus, this suggests Paul is close to facing his death and he is not bothered about it as he has given up on all hope. Through this, Remarque highlights how war can truly destroy an individual’s past, present and future and how it alienates them from normality.
Throughout his novel, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, Erich Maria Remarque expertly explores the alienation experienced by the soldiers on the Western Front during World War I. The alienation conveyed through Paul’s narrative shows that war is meaningless and reveals the true extent of the horrors of war experienced by the soldiers.
Key Areas of Analysis to Consider when planning essay:
Narrative – 1st person, present tense, past tense memories, honest and graphic, doesn’t romanticise: switch from ‘we’ to ‘I’, lack of detail in final epilogue-like chapter, switch to 3rd person omniscient narrator and past tense to report Paul’s death
Symbolism – Kemmerich’s boots, nature – butterflies/horses, bridge home and weeds
Significant imagery – earth as moon, minted coins/convicts, war as disease
Significant plot events – opening and Kemmerich’s death, Paul’s leave, Russian POWs, experiences in hospital, killing of Duval, death of friends esp. Kat, ending
Characters – Battle-hardened and appear callous at start but must detach from feelings in order to survive, as emotions seep through after leave of absence, hospital and friends death, character begins to deteriorate, question their education (Kantorek), old romantic, patriotic ideals, own Govt and reason they are at war, who is right and the enemy. Meaningless of war presented through hardening regime, failure of equipment and weapons but carry on regardless and Kaiser’s visit and military protocol. German army losing, younger and younger recruits and graveyard scene shows closeness to death. Death of horses and irony of Detering going AWOL