How Then Can One Be Quiet?
I searched in the archive of my essays this past year, since I barely posted them. This is a response to literature assignment, which I am supposed to write my response to the book I chose: All Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque). It's about a WWI German soldier's sad, sad experiences (hopelessness, no meaning in life, lack of relationships - well, you'll have to read the essay) in the trenches. The beginning paragraph and conclusion are meant to copy the style of particular pages of the book. The beginning, I imitated the first page, and for my conclusion, imitated the style of the book's last page. The beginning is only to tell the first part of my little story, and the conclusion ends it...okay, before I bore you with this horrible introduction...enjoy! Especially if you have studied or read this book!
This confession of yesterday night is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all a joke, for loss of sleep is not a joke to those who sleep face to face with the cause of the loss of their sleep. This confession will try simply to tell of a big sister who, even though she may have survived that night, was deprived of sleep by the racket of...her little sister wailing beside her ear at three am last night. Quietness seemed so unattainable for the big sister. But then she realized her loud crying was uncomparable to war sounds as depicted in Erich Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”. In “All Quiet”, Remarque uses subtle contrast to exemplify a sober and negative effects of war.
By depicting soldiers’ lives in the trenches, Remarque contrasts quiet with loud in three contexts--sound, relationship, and soul. In terms of sound, Remarque speaks about the unrest in the sounds of warfare: “At the front, there is no quietness and the curse of the front reaches so far that we never pass beyond it. Even in the remote depots and rest-areas the droning and the muffled noise of shelling is always in our ears. We are never so far off that it is no more to be heard” (121, Remarque). But when Paul, the main character, returns home on leave--where no warfare is heard--he mistakes the sounds of a screeching train to be shells. As for relationships, even those are quiet. Distanced from his family when he returns from war, Remarque says that “the hours [together with family] are a torture; we do not know what to talk about, so we speak of my mother’s illness” (196, Remarque). With his family, he remains about the struggles he faces in war. Not even the other soldiers in his rank confide in each other. All they do is eat and try to survive. For one, Paul reveals that he cannot face the quiet moments in solitude, saying that the “silence spreads (223)” when he lies in the trench with the soldier he killed. There, he lies alert to his tormented conscience that asks why he killed the man. Only until the conclusion does Remarque suggests that the soldiers only had a quiet heart or soul when they died. “[Paul’s dead face] had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come (296, Remarque).” In the end, when the soldiers are alive, there is always loud, constant warfare and very little peace.
However, I disagree with how Remarque explained the unrest in these soldiers. Remarque believes that Paul cannot relate to his family because he believes that war is too terrible that those who experience it will forever damage their lives. Paul could not tell his family about his experiences in the war, fearing that “it is too dangerous for me to put these things into words. I am afraid they might then be gigantic and I be no longer able to master them. What would become of us if everything that happens out there were quite clear to us? (165, Remarque)”. Ultimately, Remarque did not believe in God, so he implied that the experience of war destroyed the peace of the soldiers. On the other hand, to a Christian, there is a deeper reason. The soldiers did not even have a quiet soul from the very beginning because true peace comes only from God. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (NIV, John 14:27).” Truly, Paul could not relate to his family not because of the horrors of war, but because he did not have the peace of Jesus. Remarque neglects the rest Jesus extends to us.
As a result, reading this book which was full of suffering filled me with remorse. However, Remarque helped me to ask myself if I let battles of my own life destroy me. The unending sounds of artillery can be compared to daily news of another murder, another terrorist attack, or one more robbery. When I hear these reports, do I allow unrest to settle in me? Am I afraid that it will happen to me or do I trust in God’s plan? Also, reading about the unfulfilling family relationship Paul had, challenged me to seek deeper conversations about God with my family instead of not sharing my battles.” Finally, because Remarque clearly depicted the torment of the soldier’s souls, it helped me re-evaluate if I had a still, peaceful soul even after struggles in life.
In the end of the night, quietness was indeed attainable for the big sister. And the family will not understand her--for the night that dragged on before her, though it has passed these hours with us already; now they will return to its normal homeschooling day, and the night will be forgotten--and the screeching cry of the baby sister will be strange to them. How badly I contrasted the sound of a baby crying to the sound of warfare. For the effects of warfare is beyond my experiences. Indeed, Remarque subtly contrasted quiet with loud in sound, relationship, and soul. However, though he only depicts the hopelessness war brings. Remarque does not recognize that one can emerge victorious even amidst such pain and struggle. A Christian can trust that Jesus can make beauty out of ashes in world events and in troubled pasts. In Jesus is stillness of soul. “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God (NIV, 1 John 5:5)?”
Remarque, Erich Maria, and A. W. Wheen. All Quiet on the Western Front.
New York: Ballantine, 1929. Print.
"BibleGateway." New International Version (NIV). N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.