Theme Of War In A Farewell To Arms And All Quiet On The Western Front

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World War 1 was once famously labelled as the ‘war to end all wars’, by President Woodrow Wilson of America, but the grim truth of trench warfare and the senseless brutality was only exposed after the countless deaths of military and civilian lives, accumulating to a huge number of up to 40 millions deaths . One of history’s greatest wartime novels, A Farewell to Arms, written by the terse and minimalist American author, Ernest Hemingway in 1929, evocatively unravels the lugubrious experience of war in the fragmented setting of Italy, during the World War 1 campaign, through the first person narrator point of view of the despondent protagonist, Frederic Henry.

A bequest of wartime novels, most notably All Quiet on the Western Front, along with poignant poetry, including ‘Dulce et Decorum’ represent war in a realistic and unromanticised manner, conveying the concealed veracity of warfare, to condemn the antiquated myth of war as a glorifying and patriotic experience, as signified in the tributary sonnet, ‘The Dead’ (1914). In addition, Hemingway masterfully employs a range of prosaic and generic techniques, including …in order to reveal the violent deterioration of nature, as well as the sense of nihilism in Edwardian society in an era of devout Catholicism, caused by World War One, a global tragedy, that ultimately annihilated a generation forever.

War time literature has profoundly impacted the notion of war, from a valorous and sacrificial idealisation, to a grotesque and barbarous representation, that epitomises the unimaginable truth. There are a myriad of romantic war poems encompassing the Victorian ideal of heroism and patriotism, but the, ‘The Dead’, written by the renowned, English poet, Rupert Brooke in 1914, communicates the obsolete paragons of war, that were supported by the biased propaganda, during World War One. However, the time of production for his tributary sonnet was during the rise of the World War 1 conflict, a time when the macabre revelation of war was not exposed yet and biased propaganda gave enlisting soldiers a false sense of security. Hence, Brooke skilfully constructs a sonnet, as a tribute to honour the soldier’s gallantry and heroism, aligned with the Edwardian society’s romantic vision of war, despite having died by sepsis in WW1. The opening stanza of the Plutarchan sonnet , ‘Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!’, implements assonance, along with an oxymoron in ‘rich Dead’, to promptly praise the soldiers, through the syntax in the exclamation mark and the symbol of the ‘bugle’ – a trumpet that is used in military funerals. Furthermore, the symbolism in ‘Sweet wine of youth…’,expresses the immense reverence for the noble sacrifice of the soldiers and establishes the euphemistic tone of the sonnet, as it disregards the heinous reality of death during wartime. The quixotic and flagrantly patriotic nature of Brooke’s poetry, has lead acclaimed English poet, John Lehmann, amongst other literary critics, to form a criticism against his flawed representation of war, that did not mirror the egregious truth, labelling his poetry as ‘sentimental and unrealistic’. On the contrary, various critics like Eder and Edward A. McCourt, assert that ‘Brooke’s war sonnets perfectly captured the mood of the moment.’ As the atrocities of trench warfare in World War One emerged and the astonishing death toll soared, esteemed poets of World War One such as Wilfred Owen, encapsulated the terror and tragedy of modern warfare in poetry, in an unromanticised and realist style, juxtaposed to Brooke’s idealistic abstractions of war – glory, patriotism and heroism. The posthumous poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, was published after the end of World War 1 in 1920, therefore all the heinous horrors of war had transpired, resulting in the inherent disillusionment of soldiers, that Brooke had pre-WW1 blindly ignored. The use of pessimistic tone and metaphor in ‘Drunk with fatigue’ and ‘…guttering, choking, drowning’, effectively represents the miserable atmosphere of the reality of war, filled with agony and suffering. Furthermore, the iambic pentameter of the poem together with the repetition in the use of caesura, constructs a fragmented and chaotic mood, that resembles the true reality of war, which in turn negates the preconceived illusions of war. He truly focuses on the melancholic condition of the disillusioned soldiers and he bitterly ends with manifesting, ‘The old Lie: It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’, to condemn the antiquated paradigms of war, that had caused one too many individuals to willingly die, which deems war as futile cause. Owen’s excoriation of the fallacious abstractions of war evident in Rupert Brooke’s poetry, has influenced authors part of the ‘Lost Generation’ like Hemingway and Remarque to express similar paradigms of war, that actively denote the disillusionment of the tormented soldiers, contrasted to early idealisations of a glorious and chauvinistic war, that henceforth destroyed a generation.

Ernest Hemingway’s and Erich Maria Remarque’s memorable novels, A Farewell to Arms and All Quiet on the Western Front, changed the face of war time literature by further implementing realism and antiwar zeal to parallel the aesthetics of the work of Wilfred Owen, in order to shed light on the physical and mental ‘wounds’ on soldiers post war. Both compelling novels were published in 1929, more than a decade after the end of a gruesome war and incorporated their personal war experiences to create a fictional plot, that reflected their own autobiographical events of WW1. The literary sensation, All Quiet on the Western Front, written by German novelist and pacifist , Erich Maria Remarque, elucidates the psychological and physical impacts of war, by dramatizing the savagery of war, which challenges humanity’s perception of a military conflict like WW1. The notable epigraph echoes these sentiments and asserts;

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This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.

Consequently, this signifies the trauma of the ‘shell-shocked’ past of the soldiers part of the ‘Lost Generation’, highlighting the disorientation and aimlessness of society post WW1, which identifies the destruction of a generation. Moreover, the observant first person point of view narration of the protagonist, Paul Bäumer states, ‘Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades — words, words, words, but they hold the horror of the world.’ The use of asyndeton in successively listing various types of armament, as well as the epizeuxis in ‘words, words, words…’, reinforces the inherent power that weapons hold, to connote that war is simply a dark and heinous extension of the world. It also highlights the advancement of chemical warfare in WW1; the senseless brutality and immoral tactics rather than chivalrous, as the use of poison gas and nuclear bombs emerged.

Similarly, the retrospective protagonist, Frederic Henry in the worldwide classic, A Farewell to Arms, an American ambulance driver on the Italian front in WW1, challenges the obsolete paragons of war about glory and heroism and provides an untarnished depiction of the true reality of war. Furthermore, the emotionally detached narrator, Frederic, mentions, ‘I’m not brave any more darling. I’m all broken. They’ve broken me’ to his love, Catherine in the bleak setting of WW1. The pacing of the terse, sharp sentences part of the interior monologue, emphasises his sense of despondence and anguish, as the war has ‘destroyed’ him completely, even though he has not died. Consequently, this recognises the extreme internal conflict in the supposed war hero and protagonist, suggesting that the exposure to a cruel war, can have detrimental and irreversible impacts on the mental wellbeing of soldiers, leading to PTSD and perennial trauma. From analysing both war protagonists, it can be denoted that the impacts of war were clearly not ephemeral and caused the destruction of a generation – either through physical or mental ‘scars’, that haunted them perpetually.

The egregious truth of war did indeed lead to the disillusionment of soldiers and perennial trauma, but also resulted in the loss of faith in God, that eventually destroyed a generation. Italy in A Farewell to Arms and Germany in All Quiet on the Western Front, were both demolished settings where devout Catholicism was prevalent pre-WW1. However, the atrocious tragedies of war, caused the despondent soldiers to lose their faith in God and turn to nihilism, as they became sceptical about the existence of such a divine force. The spiritually lost protagonist, Frederic, discovers that people had ‘plastic and rubble in their gardens and sometimes in the street’, due to the callous bombing of civilisations. The intense visual imagery created together with Hemingway’s detached and melancholic literary style, reveals the destruction of war, as the wall plaster was stripped from the houses in Gorizia, but also religious beliefs and faith in God has been stripped, due to the macabre reality of war. This conception is further evident in the cynical and hedonistic officers interaction with the Priest, as they flagrantly disparage him, in the narrator commentary in ‘this captain baited him often’. These recurring actions towards the reticent Priest, communicates that the soldiers have minimal respect for religious institutions, as they mock the Priest for his piety and devotion to God. The major asserts that ‘all thinking men are atheists’, which acts as an indirect insult to the Priest and all other individuals who identify with the Church, labelling them as illogical and preposterous for believing in God, through the use of a generalisation, which creates dichotomy between the characters and ultimately the Edwardian society. Society during WW1 turned nihilistic and upheld existentialism, as they were void of the true meaning of life and became desensitised to the inevitability of death, due to the futile brutality of war, that established an atmosphere of violent chaos. The employment of pathetic fallacies and geographical metonyms throughout the novel, in particular the symbols of rain, mud and sludge foreshadowed ominous occurrences, like the countless casualties of war – Quote It functioned as a constant reminder of the destruction of a generation that war caused, but also the lack of spiritual connection to God and loss of religious beliefs in civilians.

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Theme Of War In A Farewell To Arms And All Quiet On The Western Front. (2021, September 22). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/theme-of-war-in-a-farewell-to-arms-and-all-quiet-on-the-western-front/
“Theme Of War In A Farewell To Arms And All Quiet On The Western Front.” Edubirdie, 22 Sept. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/theme-of-war-in-a-farewell-to-arms-and-all-quiet-on-the-western-front/
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Theme Of War In A Farewell To Arms And All Quiet On The Western Front [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 22 [cited 2022 May 20]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/theme-of-war-in-a-farewell-to-arms-and-all-quiet-on-the-western-front/
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