A Comparative Analysis of All Quiet on the Western Front and Johnny Got His Gun by Erich Maria Remarque

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Dehumanization is the destruction of human individuality. Both Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun illustrate this harsh reality of soldier’s dehumanization in World War I. Both novels reveal that no matter which nationality the soldier was in the war, they underwent the same pattern of young, patriotic individual to dehumanized soul with a lack of self-identity. Remarque follows this pattern through an individual German soldier, Paul, and his comrades while Trumbo focuses through the lens of former American soldier Joe. Each soldier enters the war hoping for the best, brought into the effort by persuasions of nationalism and liberty from the ruling class. As time passes, however, Joe, Paul, and other’s consciousness begin to change. They begin to see themselves as mere “bodies”. This discovery leads to the realization that they are simply put into place for the benefit of the leaders in power, those who do not actually fight in the war effort. By the end of the war, Joe and Paul develop a “sociological imagination” as they are able to see the outside forces, away of their control, guiding their lives. Overall, both Remarque and Trumbo’s novels share similar characteristics of soldier’s de-individuation and how the “Great War” shifts the thinking and outcome of individual experiences of soldiers on both sides of the effort.

Regardless of which nation one soldier fought for, extremely similar “beliefs” and “persuasions are shown upon the entrance to the war effort. Firstly, the way that both Joe in Johnny Got His Gun and Paul in All Quiet on the Western Front first become “interested” share parallel characteristics that ultimately display the false-consciousness surrounding warfare at the outset. In Remarque’s novel, Paul mentions that he entered the war, initially, because “We loved our country….We went courageously into every action”. ‘ By Remarque stating that Paul and his comrades “love” their country displays an immediate sense of nationalism. Nationalism is defined as a strong attachment or bond between the members of a country. Essentially, people strongly identify themselves with “the homeland”. Paul certainly feels this strong bond to Germany because he feels it necessary to go “courageously” into every action. Paul displays his strong connection between himself and nation. Paul wants to make his country proud, and this is how the war is seen initially through his eyes. Similarly, Joe maintains a generally similar experience regarding his entrance and initial impressions of the Great War. Joe states that upon his decision to enter the war, he is told, “It was kind of a duty you owed yourself”.? To call his service a “duty” shares similar characteristics with Paul’s initial impressions of Nationalism. He feels obligated to support his country. Also, as Paul does, Joe feels that he “owed himself” the necessity of joining the war, showing Joe’s connections to his country. Joe and Paul both feel that entering the war will allow them to become courageous warriors representing the “homeland”. Unfortunately, this sense of pride for their states quickly turns out to be fleeting as it diminishes in a parallel fashion.

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World War I causes a drastic change in consciousness in American soldiers, such as Joe, and German soldiers, such as Kropp, Paul, and others, respectively, as both sides lose their pride toward their native land and their subsequent duty. Firstly, in Remarque’s novel, Kropp speaks to Albert about each other’s futures when he says, “But I can’t even imagine anything….I don’t see anything at all” in regards to his future.’ Because Kropp cannot “see anything” in regards to his future, the destruction that war has had on his consciousness shows. He has been a soldier each day for ears and he cannot picture himself as anything else because the drastic amount of time he must be “Kropp. the mindless solider”. This has transformed him, and therefore he has morphed his new personality. Furthermore, Krop states that, “You’ll be dead one day, so what does it matter?”. This statement illustrates the detriment to one’s consciousness by the war. Kropp cannot see himself outside of the war causing him to see his new personal self in only the context of life and death, and nothing in between. Due to this realization, Kropp has gone from being an enthusiastic patriot to a pessimistic, consciously altered being. Similarly, in Dalton Trumbo’s novel, Johnny Got His Gun, the protagonist Joe experiences similar alterations of his consciousness.

In Trumbo’s Novel, Joe’s consciousness and his view of the Great War are altered significantly as a result of his injuries and experiences. Joe begins to think about why he enters the war, and he realizes that “anybody who went out and got into the front line trenches to fight for liberty was a goddam fool and the guy who got him there was a liar”S When Joe states that those who fight for liberty are “goddam fools”, he clearly changes his consciousness from before. Upon entrance to the war, Joe was a nationalistic and patriotic young man persuaded by phrases such as “liberty” and “homeland”. After witnessing the devastation of the war, through his life “ending” injuries, where he cannot see, hear, eat, or smell, the ways in which he thinks and feels become altered significantly. He was told fighting for liberty and one’s homeland was “owed to him”. Joe realizes that this is not true when he is lost to wither away without care from anyone. He now believes that the nationalistic rhetoric- spoken by those who spout it to everyone, are “liars”. Joe realizes those who do not fight in war are promoting it. Thus, he realizes the hypocrisy of the “false patriots” who speak such promotions. Joe has developed the sociological imagination. Joe sees the hypocrisy of the ruling class is illustrated upon his statement that “Then there was this freedom that little guys were always getting killed for”. The sociological imagination is where one realizes the outside social forces that affect his or her life. Joe realizes the “little guy” is merely a “Cog in the machine” in order to promote the desires of those with power, “the big guys”. Joe now understands that those with power have manipulated the working class soldiers, including himself, into believing that they are fighting for liberty. While in reality, they are fighting for the individual liberty of the powerful, ruling class.

Paul’s alteration in consciousness allows him to conclude his experiences with the result of the development of the sociological imagination in a similar fashion to Joe. Ultimately, the end result for Joe is his death in the fall of 1918. Before this, he is able to see the social forces that drive the “false consciousness” of warfare and patriotism to the benefit of the leaders: those in power. Paul realizes the manipulation of the working class, and states, “It is as though formerly we were coins of different provinces; and now we are melted down, and all bear the same stamp”.? By people being coins of “different provinces” now “melted down”, Paul had come to understand that the Great War had caused people of different backgrounds to come together and become stripped of their identity for one common cause, to become “coins of the state. Paul and his comrades are to serve those who run the state, and give up their personal liberties and desires so they can better benefit those in power.

Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun maintain extremely parallel themes of dehumanization and changes in consciousness caused by the constant, total warfare in the early twentieth century. In terms of their respective responses to the war, there are some slight differences. Remarque explains the war in terms of a live-action “play-by-play”, as it is happening through the eyes of Paul. This method is quite effective because the story is able to portray the reality and harshness of the new “total” warfare. In contrast, Trumbo’s method brings about a psychological aspect. Trumbo explains the destruction of the war through the past memories of “vegetable” Joe. While Joe’s experiences are not live, they are moving because explains the horrors of war combined with his nearly lifeless physical condition to create a sense of the characteristics of the war. Ultimately, both books are able to suggest the course of history that occurs after 1918.

After 1918, both books offer insight into the transition of Western History. Mainly, these two books suggest the change of warfare. For the first time, armies were fighting non-stop. This method of battle is known as “total warfare”. As both Joe and Paul discover, the lack of individualism was done at the expense of the working class soldier. This is seen, as Paul and his comrades are no longer identifying themselves as anything but “German soldiers”- the war has stripped them of who they are for the benefit of the “ruling” class. This hints at the nature of history after 1918 as nations become more interested in self-indulgence at the expense of others. Such attitudes and actions can lead to increased warfare and potentially deadly rivalries. As one is aware, intense warfare of this nature occurs after 1918, such as World War II, which begins less than twenty years later. This warfare results from the “selfishness” of nations as they manipulate the soldiers for their own benefit. Thus, war changes the soldiers psychologically, for where they are left to realize, such as Paul, Kropp, Joe, and others, that they are being used as mere “bodies” of the state and such manipulation requires the soldiers to develop a sense of camaraderie as a means of human connection. This manipulation causes the development of new understandings of the world, and a change in the way these particular individuals think, feel, and identify. Paul, Joe, Kropp, and others come from different backgrounds, and enter the war in similar fashions. Although the war dehumanized them, the outsider can observe that beneath revolutions’ empty rhetoric are humans, who are fundamentally the same.


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A Comparative Analysis of All Quiet on the Western Front and Johnny Got His Gun by Erich Maria Remarque. (2023, May 31). Retrieved from


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