Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front offers readers a fictional yet accurate account of the life of a common soldier in the trenches during final two years of the First World War. Like the book’s narrator, Paul Baumer, Remarque was a German soldier himself. During the decade following the German defeat, he suffered from depression and a sense of loss. Finally, in 1928, he wrote Im Westen nichts Neues, translated into English in 1929 as All Quiet on the Western Front. It quickly became an international best-seller. Soon after the publication of the book, the American-made film of All Quiet on the Western Front was released to international acclaim.
Response to Remarque’s work was not all positive, however. In Germany, older people detested the negative portrait of the war and of their generation. In 1933, the German Nazi regime banned and burned the book, as Hans Wagener notes in his Understanding Erich Maria Remarque. Even the showing . . . Read More
World War I
Named for its complex involvement of countries from Northern Europe to Africa, western Asia, and the V.S., World War I, called the Great War, was ignited by a single episode. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia. As the Austrian government plotted a suit able retribution against the Serbs, the effect on Russia was taken into consideration. Because Russia was closely allied with Serbia, Austrian officials worried that the slightest aggression against the Serbs would result in Russian involvement. As a precaution, Austria sought support from Germany, its most powerful ally. Kaiser Wilhelm II immediately vouched for Germany’s assistance, telling the Austrian powers that his nation would support whatever action the Austrian government might take.
On July 23, 1914, the Austrian empire presented an ultimatum to the Serbs, demanding . . . Read More
Point of View
Erich Maria Remarque has been praised for the simple, direct language of his war novels in contrast to their often violent subject matter; he is also acknowledged for his ability to create moving, realistic characters and situations. His prose style is punctuated with fragmented narrative passages that mirror Paul’s often disoriented state of mind. The plot moves in a “bildungsroman” format, demonstrating a young man’s personal development. There are impressionist details that move in tableau fashion. Remarque’s choice of a first-person narrator does, however, create one possible problem: the two concluding paragraphs have to stem from a new, apparently omniscient third-person narrator whose intervention is needed after the death of the first-person narrator. The story does not suffer from this change of viewpoint or from the absence of any explanation of the mechanics by which it came to be set . . . Read More
Individual vs. Machine
The patriotism of war is a thing of the past, Remarque suggests, as the young recruits quickly learn about the reality of trench warfare. Paul Baurner, fresh from Baumerchool at the beginning of the novel, is sent after skimpy but brutal basic training to the trenches in France. He quickly learns that living or dying has little to do with one’s prowess as a soldier but more as a conditioned reflex. Since the Allies outgunned the Axis in artillery and machinery, the German youth took refuge in trenches that were no match for the kind of warfare waged. As more and more of his comrades are killed, Baumer sees that death comes from afar in the artillery shells and the bombs, and as the trenches offer less and less refuge from the other side’s new tanks and airplanes and its better guns, survival becomes little more than a chance.
Thus, the theme of All Quiet on the Western Front is the . . . Read More
The sensitive twenty-year-old narrator (he has written poems and a play called “Saul”) reaches manhood through three years of service as a soldier in the second company of the German army during World War I. His loss of innocence during the cataclysm is the focus of the author’s anti-war sentiment. If one views this book as a roman a clef (a thinly veiled autobiographical novel), he is telling the basic story of Erich Maria Remarque. Although he feels cut off and alienated from past values two years after the war begins, Paul is compassionate to his dying friends. In camaraderie, the author suggests, is salvation. One by one, Paul sees his comrades die; he also stabs a French soldier, a death that torments him profoundly. He is killed by a stray bullet just before the declaration of the armistice. Critics differ on the degree to which Baumer is Remarque, but the general consensus is that Paul Baumer is foremost a fictional . . . Read More
Part I-Behind the Lines
Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is the story of a young German foot soldier, Paul Baumer, during the waning days of the First World War. Since Paul narrates his story-which consists of a series of short episodes-in the first person and in present tense, the novel has the feel of a diary, with entries on everyday life interspersed with horrifying battle episodes.
We find that Paul joined the army with his classmates Muller, Kropp, and Leer at the urging of their schoolmaster. In the first section, Paul also introduces his friends Tjaden, Westhus, and Katczinski, called Kat. At forty, Kat is the oldest of the soldiers and is skilled in the practicalities of life. As the book opens, the soldiers concern themselves with food, cigarettes and thoughts of home.
While resting, Baumer and his friends decide to visit Kemmerich, a wounded comrade, at the field hospital. They discover . . . Read More
Nola Darling is a young black woman living in Brooklyn. She is sexually involved with three men: the caring but overly protective Jamie, the affluent but arrogant Greer, and the fun but immature Mars. Each man wants to date her exclusively, but Nola resists deciding on a single partner, wanting to maintain her independence. The impatience – and insecurity – of her three suitors pressurizes her into making a choice, but she soon begins to question whether she has picked the right man, or if she even needs a man at all.
As the cultural landscape of American independent cinema becomes increasingly obscured by the perception of the sector as an industrially necessary stepping stone, discussion surrounding Spike Lee’s directorial debut, She’s Gotta Have It, has centred less on the black sexual politics which caused such a stir in 1986 and more on Lee’s entrepreneurial production . . . Read More
An angry black man shouts at his son for failing to get into a fight to protect his younger brother; the boy’s mother contemptuously slaps him. Years later, the boy, Stan, lives with his wife and children in Watts, a black Los Angeles neighbourhood. He works in an abattoir. He cannot sleep, and is unable to respond to his wife’s sexual desires. Life unfolds slowly, a day at a time. Children play in vacant lots, on rooftops, in derelict buildings and railroad sidings. Two men try to get Stan to join them in committing a crime. The white woman who runs the liquor store hits on him. He scrapes together the money to buy a car engine, but the engine gets broken. He tries to take his family out into the country to a racetrack, but the car gets a puncture and there is no spare tire. Back home, it looks like it might rain. Stan is finally able to – wants to – return his wife’s attentions. He still works in an . . . Read More
DJay is a Memphis pimp and small-time drug dealer who operates out of his car and resides in low-rent housing with erratic air conditioning, sharing his space with his hookers Nola, Shug and Lex. Frustrated with his life, DJay decides to reinvent himself as a rapper with the assistance of former school classmate Key, who is now a recording engineer. Despite lacking experience and money, they set up a makeshift studio in DJay’s home with the aim of cutting a demo that will sufficiently impress hometown rap star Skinny Black and lead to a recording contract.
An independent film with obvious crossover potential, Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow was bought by MTV Films at the Sundance Film Festival for a record $9 million and later released through Paramount Classics. Produced by the studio-affiliated African-American filmmaker John Singleton, who parlayed his breakthrough success with . . . Read More
Duke, a young African-American, struggles to survive and make a name for himself in the slums of Harlem. The film opens with a close-up of a bearded, black Muslim on the street preaching hate against whites and the cruel world we live in. We then get a tour from Duke’s high school teacher, the only male Caucasian in the film, guiding his class through Fifth Avenue to the public library. The rest of the movie plays out in the ghetto, depicted with montages of real locations and real people around the city. Duke’s main motivation is to obtain a ‘piece’ (a gun), and thus become president of the ‘Royal Pythons’, the local gang that he belongs to. Once he has the weapon, Duke can wage war on their rival gang, the ‘Wolves.’ There is also a love story, which follows Duke’s seduction of the gang’s official prostitute, Luanne. He takes her to Coney Island to see the ocean, which she had no idea was just a few subway stops . . . Read More