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.
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.
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.