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

When critics use the word form to discuss a novel, they sometimes mean its overall style and structure-the elements already presented under that heading in this guidebook. Another meaning of form is the category a novel falls into- how it should be classified, what kind of fiction it is.

You yourself use from in this narrow, second meaning when you say that you like to read mysteries or westerns or romances or some other kind of story. But if someone asked you what kind of book All Quiet is, you would find that it just doesn't fit standard classifications. You might say it's a war story-but it's a lot more than that. It's also a story about a boy turning into a disillusioned adult, or perhaps a story telling society that it ought to eliminate the great evil of war. The standard categories simply do not express all that.

The best term for a novel in which everything depends on a specific war setting is historical novel. Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, set during the French Revolution, is an example. All Quiet does happen during World War I, but Remarque doesn't dwell on historical details such as names of battles. Instead he concentrates much more on what any war does to people.


Usually a novel in which a young person matures by passing through some kind of crisis is called a novel of formation or a novel of initiation. This fits Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, in which Henry Fleming starts out as a naive boy, expecting war to be glorious, only to find how terrible it is. It also fits All Quiet to some extent, but not as well-by the time the book begins, Paul has already become disillusioned enough to call 70 deaths a "miscalculation."

If you see All Quiet as a novel telling society something wrong ought to be changed-in this case, war-you could try sociological novel, but again the label seems somehow off. It fits a book against slavery like Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin but seems to express only one element of All Quiet.

All in all, form as classification is simply too narrow and artificial for this book. With All Quiet, you are better off using the word form in its broad senses meaning style and structure. All Quiet can be described as a novel made up of dramatic scenes, vivid language, and a series of contrasting episodes that make us feel how totally destructive war is.

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