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All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque-Barron's Booknotes
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POINT OF VIEW

Stories usually are told from the first person or the third person point of view. We get these terms from grammar. "I love" is a first person structure, "you love" is second person, and "he (or she) loves" is third person. A story is told in the first person when the narrator says that I or we are doing thus-and-so: someone actually in the story is telling it. A third person story uses the he or they approach; some unnamed person outside the story is observing others doing something.

Except for the very last two paragraphs of the book, All Quiet on the Western Front is written from the first person point of view. The story is being told by someone who is actually in it- Paul Baumer-not by some invisible outsider. Remarque does switch to third person in the last two paragraphs for an obvious reason: Paul cannot report his own death.

First person narration always has both advantages and disadvantages. A big advantage is that we tend to identify with the main character. In All Quiet we feel as if we are right there with Paul, experiencing what he is seeing and hearing and feeling. We almost think his thoughts, share his ideas. First person narration makes the whole story seem direct and real and honest.


On the other hand, first person narration also limits us to knowing and seeing only what the narrator-in this case, Paul- knows and sees. We get other news and views and opinions only as he filters them and reports them to us.

In the case of All Quiet, Paul is young and immature. Until he enlisted, he had never experienced real pain or tragedy in his life. Older people generally know from experience that human beings can survive incredible pain and still find meaning in life. Paul hasn't had any time to gain that kind of experience to sustain him. Therefore it's asking quite a bit to have us accept, from him, whole theories about war and life and the nature of human beings. Still, whatever Paul might lack in age or experience is balanced for us by the honesty and sensitivity we see in him.

Over all, then, in All Quiet on the Western Front, the advantages of first person narration outweigh the disadvantages. There is a perfect fit of first person point of view with what Remarque wanted to say about World War I- that it destroyed a whole generation of the young. How better to show us that than to let us experience the war through the eyes of a young soldier?

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All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque-Barron's Booknotes
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