The Destructiveness of War

A major theme, not only on lives and property, but also on the human

spirit. Men are subject to physical torment-eyes are blinded, limbs are

blown off, blood flows everywhere, and innocent men die in agony. When

soldiers take shelter in the graveyard, bombs explode all around them,

the living hide in coffins and the dead are thrown from their graves.

The destructive power is so great that even the fundamental differences

between life and death become blurred. The impact of war on the spirit

is subtle. They find themselves less able to return to civilian life-

friends die all around them.

2) The Lost Generation

This theme is an offshoot of the destructiveness of war. Paul's

generation grew up too fast, its perceptions of life grossly distorted by

the horror or war. The youthful idealism that might someday have

blossomed into constructive maturity has been nipped in the bud. Unlike

earlier generations, Paul can never again hope to find comfort and

inspiration in the hollow rhetoric of politicians and generals. The war

has shattered their illusions. Their innocence is gone, and only in

aimless skepticism is left to fill the void.

3) Camaraderie

The theme of comraderie occurs constantly in the novel. The camaraderie

that exists in Paul's company keeps them from being driven insane by the

horrors all around them. In a sense, the comraderie among Paul's

friends can be seen as a last desperate clinging to the innocence of

youth. These young men were transported almost directly to the

battlefield from the schoolyard. The adolescent pranks of Paul and his

classmates can be seen in their "adult" behavior, as in their attack on

Himmelstoss. If the social responses of Paul and his friends seem at

time childish, it is essential to remember that these are young men

whose experience of life took them directly to the barracks from the

classroom. If they seem immature, it may be because they weren't given

the chance to grow up normally. The best example of this theme is when

Kat and Paul shared their roasted goose with Kropp and Tjaden. They

were taking care of each other.

4) Alienation

The theme of alienation develops as the novel progresses. At first,

Paul and his friends still behave as if their lives will someday return

to normal. In the middle of the book, Paul goes home on leave, only to

discover that his real home is now with his friends on the front. By

the time Kat dies, Paul feels that his own life no longer has meaning.

The process of alienation is now complete.

5) Shared Humanity

The theme of shared humanity takes the theme of comraderie one huge

step forward. Just as Paul comes to look upon his comrades almost as

brothers, he also comes to recognize that all men are brothers under the

skin. The irony of war is that brothers are forced to kill one

another. Paul's compassion for the captured Russian soldiers and the

French soldier he kills in the trench are examples of this theme.

William Mory