Sunday, December 2, 2007

(November) Post

Ah, although it is in fact December, this is my November post, so I will technically be writing two this month.
Anyway, this month's book was All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. It is set in World War I, and was in fact written between the first and second World Wars. Paul Baumer is a young man enlisted in the German army, experiencing the war front firsthand. Remarque uses his own recollection of the war to paint a grisly picture in which no detail is spared - he is extremely graphic in his descriptions of the death, gore, and violence of trench warfare.

Baumer's company is made up of other young men who were his schoolmates before enlistment, and become his comrades and family. The psychological damage he sustains is heightened by the horrific deaths of his friends, casualties of a war fought for leaders they don't know, and reasons they can't justify. Once, allowed to return home on leave, Baumer realizes how much he has changed. Home seems irrelevant and out of place next to the meadows where people die every day. His father keeps asking him questions about the war, wanting to know what it is like and what is happening, while Baumer simply avoids the questions and waves them away, because it is impossible to describe to someone else. The war and its soldiers inhabit an entirely separate realm, detached from civilian life. The only people who can understand are fellow soldiers.

While Catullus typically writes of love, and his wars are personal, All Quiet on the Western Front could perhaps be related to the "dead brother" poems. They have in common the loss of someone dear, and the pain of death. Baumer loses most of the people close to him and so becomes expectant of death, knowing that one day soon it will be his turn, but is continually struck as each one of his friends fall.

As Baumer's friends are his brothers-in -arms, certain lines of Carmen 101 apply directly:
"Heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi..."
"Oh, sad brother from me unfairly taken..."
"atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale."
"and in eternity, brother, goodbye and farewell."

Like the death of Catullus' brother, the untimely and unfair death of close friends contributes to Baumer's grief and bitterness. The killing of his best friend Kat finally overwhelms Baumer, leaving him detached, hardened, and resigned until his own death a few months later.

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