Length: approximately 1,500 words
Here are some possible essay questions. Choose one. You are allowed to come up with your own questions, although I would like you to clear it with me first. Essays should be around six pages (not including the title page or bibliography). Your essay should have an introductory paragraph that closes with a proper and specific thesis statement, paragraphs organized around topics that reinforce your thesis, and a strong concluding paragraph.
For this essay I want you to use at least three critical, peer-reviewed sources, so check with the library and with me to find the most appropriate books and/or articles. For books, the website Novanet provides a complete listing of all books and journals held by universities in Nova Scotia. For articles, the website JSTOR (which is free to access as Dalhousie students) provides thousands of articles on numerous subjects. Note: Internet sources such as Wikipedia, Douban, SparkNotes, and CliffsNotes are not critical sources. Please ask me if you have any questions about the validity of a source.
When it comes to the use of critical sources, I want you to use the critics to aid your argument, but not to supplant it. Sometimes you may agree with the critic, but your argument is often enhanced by having an opinion to spar against. Be specific, focus in on key scenes or elements, and make sure that your argument is well supported with evidence and quotations from the works. When it comes to quoting from the text, comment on the quotes you use and do not simply allow them to speak for themselves. If you have any questions while writing your essays, or if you would like me to see rough drafts, please let me know.
Thesis statements: please email me your thesis statements by November 30th. This is just for me to make sure that you are on the right path with your paper and that you have had a chance to come up with a clear, coherent, and concise argument that can be pursued in an essay. I will give feedback on this, as I want to make sure that everyone does a good job with the question and that finds a good angle with which to pursue it. Note: while the thesis is not due until the 30th, I very much encourage you to email it to me as soon as you are ready. The more time you have to work on your paper with the proper feedback, the better it will no doubt turn out.
- Educaion is a central theme in Remarque’s novel. This novel is suffused with the sense that the younger generation has been misled and tricked by the older generation into fighting a war with no purpose. Discuss the role of education and miseducation in the novel, be it in school, at basic training, or on the battlefield. One way to possibly handle this is to contrast the teachers and parents with Kat, but this is only one possibility. Another might be to look at the hostility that Paul and his friends have not for the French, but for the Germans in power who have pushed them into this conflict.
- Gertrude Stein once famously referred to the young men who went off to fight in WWI as a lost generation. How might this idea be applied to Paul and his friends? In what ways have they been altered irrevocably by the war? One scene worth keeping in mind is Paul’s furlough back home, which raises the possibility of his ever being able to truly go home. Another possibility could be to consider the circumstances of Remarque following the war (here you would need to use critical/biographical sources). In what ways do the young men in particular seem to fear the end of the war as much as they do the war itself. Likewise, in what ways does the novel reflect Remarque’s desire to tell the story of those who, even if they escaped the shells, were destroyed by the war? If All Quiet on the Western Front is a Bildungsroman, what growth does Paul show or is able to show?
- Remarque’s novel supports, in many ways, William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous quote that war is hell. In what ways does the novel manage to do this? How is the new technology of war – machine guns, gas, tanks, heavy shells – contributing to this hellish experience? In what ways does war make those who fight both see their enemies as human but also act in inhuman ways themselves? There are many scenes to consider in respect to this, but one scene that could potentially serve as a compelling contrast is Paul’s scene in the trench with the dead French soldier. Another scene worth considering is Kantorek’s letter and the soldiers’ reaction to it.
- While war certainly can bring out the worst in us, Remarque is equally interested in how, paradoxically, it can also bring out the best. How is comradeship explored in the novel? Look at Paul’s friendship with his fellow soldiers. How has war created a bond between these young men that peace never could? Paul’s friendship with Kat is another relationship worth exploring in respect to this question. Likewise, the scene with the goose dinner explicates this theme quite strongly, as does the scene in which Paul is trapped in Chapter 9.
- Irony is ever present in Remarque’s novel, from the lies told by hypocrites pushing young men to war to the very title itself. How is irony explored in the novel? Scenes of particular interest could be Paul’s time in the trench with the dead French soldier, Paul’s return home, Kat’s death, and the novel’s final moments. Another angle might be to consider this novel as a kind of Bildungsroman, chronicling the growth the spiritual maturity of its hero, Paul, that nevertheless ends the way that it ends.
- Discuss the novel in terms of the actual historical period that Remarque is depicting. Note here that while the question is broad, your response to it must be very specific, i.e. you must pick a very particular battle, feature of the war, etc., in your discussion. How does the novel compare to the actual history? In what ways is it accurate? If inaccurate, to what ends?