Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements for “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “All Quiet on the Western Front” in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot of “All Quiet on the Western Front” or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1 : Paul Baumer as Representative of the “Lost Generation" in “All Quiet on the Western Front"
Paul Baumer is an icon for the so-called “Lost Generation" which was a term first coined by Ernest Hemingway who, like Paul, served during World War I and also was disillusioned with the constant theme preached by teachers and parents about duty and honor for men. Young men across the world went to foreign lands to fight enemies in a warfare that was unlike any other to date. Instead of guns or other personal weapons, many of the developments of WWI included more efficient and less personal ways to kill, including tanks and poison gasses. This “Lost Generation" of young men who had been nurtured on ideas of patriotism, honor, glory, and patriotic duty returned home to fiercely rage against much of what had been taught to them as they attempted to voice their disillusionment. For this essay on “All Quiet on the Western Front" consider the ways in which Paul embodies the sentiments of the lost generation as you trace his character development to that of a wide-eyed boy of nineteen enthusiastically taking in these ideas that would later be shown to be hollow notions that were no longer viable or plausible, especially on the notoriously violent and grim front lines of the war that was like no other.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2 : Patriotism & Glory Versus the Cold Realities of War
Unlike many other novels throughout literary history that have discussed wartime experiences with an emphasis on ideals such as nationalism, patriotism and the glory of war, “All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque does not engage this discussion at all and instead offers readers a grimly realistic depiction of war and the associated loss of innocence, humanity, and emotion that accompany it. Interestingly, this novel does not simply not glorify war, it actively seeks to engage in a conversation about the empty ideals that have fueled wars and warriors and how these notions are devoid of truth and vacant of any substance. All of the teachings by Kantorek that inspired Paul and his fellows at first are proven to be hollow ideas when the boys are faced with the horrors of war and as one political symbol (such as the Kaiser on his visit) after another are shown to be incongruent to the propaganda that led the young men into combat in the first place. Paul discovers that the only truth underlying war is that all parties, enemies and allies alike, are human beings—not faceless creatures. In short, the glorified notion of war and honor are proven to be false—along with the concept of an enemy itself.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3 : The Function of Detailed Graphic Gore and Violence in “All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque
One problem some readers have with “All Quiet on the Western Front" is the description by Erich Maria Remarque of the graphic violence and gore and the excruciating detail in which it is communicated. However it may seem, this is not gratuitous violence simply for the shock factor, nor is simply included to add realism to the novel. Instead, this is a definite effort on the part of the novelist to communicate the human side of war, almost as a direct affront to the centuries of novels that have favored the patriotic and nationalistic over the human cost. By presenting these young men as capable, charming, able and strong—as young men we could easily recognize in our own lives—only to have them blown to bits, to witness as they lose limbs, get poisoned by gas attacks and die otherwise unenviable deaths, Remarque is presenting both notions; the patriotic and glory of war side (particularly through the character of Kanorek) and the real human side that suffers great pain. This contrast is where the bulk of anti-war meaning of the novel hails from and the violence, far from being something that is par for the course or included simply to add realism, is there to communicate the horrible pain of war, physical and mental versus the hollow notions that landed the soldiers on the battlefield in the first place.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Blurring of Enemy Lines in “All Quiet on the Western Front"
One of the most important developments of Paul’s character as he increasingly realizes how vacant the promises of glory and one’s duty to fight are is how the notion of an “enemy" loses meaning on the battlefield—which is, ironically, the one place where the enemy should loom in one’s mind constantly. Throughout the novel Paul only comes to see the enemy, whether he is dead or alive, as a human being just like himself. Two of the most important sections of “All Quiet on the Western Front" where this occurs are when he observes the Russian prisoners of war and when he, acting on an animal impulse, stabs the French man, Gerald Duval, only to find that he was a father and a husband—a man not unlike himself. Throughout “All Quiet on the Western Front" the notion of common humanity acts as one of the greatest anti-war messages communicated and by putting a human face on the otherwise nameless “enemy" the futility of war and violence begins to seem unnecessary and wasteful of human life.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5 : Detachment and the Problem of Emotions in “All Quiet on the Western Front"
At the beginning of the novel the reader is made aware that Paul is a sensitive young man who enjoys philosophy and poetry and revels in ideas and concepts. However, this sense of humanity and level of emotion becomes one of his strongest enemies in the novel as he fights with himself about how he should feel about things. The world of war has completely toppled his relationship with his thoughts and he reflects a great deal on how he feels disconnected. The death of his friends one by one, his visits home where he cannot seem to seem to feel he has a place, his frustrated inability to experience simple joy and recapture his innocence or youth, his overwhelming grief over his instinctual murder of Gerard Duval—all of these are highly emotional events that he cannot seem to process all at once, if ever at all. In many ways, the ending of “All Quiet on the Western Front" is not tragic and while it is not necessarily a happy ending, the fact that the war is finally over and Paul no longer has to struggle with his guilt, disconnection from those he used to be a part of, and his anxiety about how he will live once the war is over are all positive things. He died with a calm smile on his face as these worries have been laid to rest. Most importantly, it is the death of emotion which arguably, in the world of war, was Paul’s greatest enemy.
This list of important quotations from “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “All Quiet on the Western Front” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque above, these quotes alone with page numbers can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way.
“…at that time even one’s parents were ready with the word ‘coward’; no one had the vaguest idea what we were in for. The wisest were just poor and simple people. They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas those who were better off, and should have been able to see more clearly what the consequences would be, were beside themselves with joy" (11).
“Kantorek would say that we stood on the threshold of life. And so it would seem. We had as yet taken no root. The war swept us away. For the others, the older men, it is but an interruption. They were able to think beyond it. We, however, have been gripped by it and do not what the end may be. We only know in some strange and melancholy way we have become a waste land. All the same, we are not often sad" (20).
“The graveyard is a mass of wreckage. Coffins and corpses lie strewn about. They have been killed once again; but each of them that was flung up saved one of us" (81).
[Albert says the war has ruined them for everything and Paul thinks]: “He is right. We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst into our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war.
“…I feel the lips of the little brunette and press myself against them, my eyes close, I want it all to fall from me, war and terror and grossness, in order to awaken young and happy; I think of the picture of the girl on the poster and, for a moment, believe that my life depends on winning her. And if I press even deeper into the arms that embrace me, perhaps a miracle may happen…"
“…Here hang bits of uniform, and somewhere else is plastered a bloody mess that was once a human limb" (208).