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
Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path,” written in 1940, is one of the author’s most frequently anthologized stories, but this by no means indicates that it is her easiest. There is a depth of ambiguity in it. Twentieth-century critics have chosen, for the most part, to examine the role race plays in the story and through that to either condemn Welty or exalt her for her views. But race is certainly not the story’s only concern. Questions of age, service, dedication, and myth also inform the story.
However, it is with race that any discussion of Welly’s story must begin. Welty comes from Mississippi, in many ways the most notoriously troubled of Southern states. Born there in 1909 (to Northern parents), she grew up and has spent most of her life in Jackson. She grew up in an era where the Civil War and Reconstruction were still remembered by many of her neighbors, and she herself has lived through the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and . . . Read More
War and Poverty
Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” was published in 1941, the same year the United States entered World War II. Europe had already been involved in the conflict for several years since Adolph Hitler began enlarging Germany’s empire. Germany declared war on the United States in December, after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the U.S.’s declaration of war against Japan. Set against the brewing global conflict, Welty’s tale of rural life in the South may seem out of context for the times. Phoenix Jackson’s world is much smaller than the global world of international warfare. Her world revolves around her home, her grandson, and the rural life of Natchez, Mississippi.
The story was inspired in part by the work Welty was doing in the early 1940s for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 as a way to put many . . . Read More
Point of View
“A Worn Path” is told from a third-person limited point of view. This allows the reader to empathize with Phoenix, because her thoughts and actions are shown. Yet, in third-person, the reader is allowed to view Phoenix from a distance, and thereby see her as others see her.
The most obvious symbol in the story is Phoenix Jackson’s comparison to the mythological bird, the phoenix. Dressed in vivid colors, Phoenix’s resilience is underscored by her comparison with a bird that rises from the ashes every 500 years. Additionally, Phoenix’s grandson is described by the woman as “[wearing] a little patch quilt and peep out holding his mouth open like a little bird.”
Eudora Welty has been praised from early on for her use of language. In using similes, she makes vivid comparisons . . . Read More
“A Worn Path” is Eudora Welty’s story of an old African-American woman’s ritual journey. Its themes are elicited from the symbol of the journey as well as the encounters the old woman has on her journey. Critics have praised Welly’s use of language, myth, and symbol in this deceptively simple story.
Race and Racism
Issues of race often inform Welly’s fiction for the fact lhal so much of her fiction is sel in Mississippi during the 1940s and 1950s. Phoenix’s brief encounters on her journey typify the views of many Southern whites during the era. A white hunter helps her out of a ditch but patronizes her and trivializes her journey: “I know you old colored people! Wouldn’t miss going to town to see Santa Claus!” He also taunts her by pointing his loaded gun al her and asking, “Doesn’t the gun scare you?” Through these exchanges, Welly shows how some whiles . . . Read More
Phoenix’s grandson does not appear in the story, but his medical condition is the reason for the old woman’s journey. Having swallowed lye (a strong alkaline substance used in making soap) several years ago, the boy’s throat is permanently damaged. His grandmother is the only relative he has left, and she makes the trip to town to receive medicine that soothes the pain. There has been no change in his condition, Phoenix tells the nurse, he sits with his “mouth open like a little bird.” She also says that though he suffers, he has “a sweet look.” Though Phoenix says he is not dead, some critics have theorized that he is.
The hunter encounters Phoenix after she has fallen into a ditch, the unfortunate result of an encounter with one of his dogs. He helps her up, demonstrating his willingness to assist a person in need. But his . . . Read More