“All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Journey Into the Whirlwind”
Wars and as results sufferings of some people and the triumph of others have always been a part of human history. Mostly they were connected with politics and ruling government.
The two books: “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque and “Journey Into the Whirlwind” by Eugenia Ginzburg have much in common, on the other hand describing different people and concentrating on different historical events.
“Journey Into the Whirlwind” – is a book about the hard times of Stalin’s repressions. During those times thousands of men and women were arrested and sent to political camps, one of the most terrible among them was Gulag. The fact that the main heroin, who is suffering great mischief in different camps, is woman already puts the reader into a more unusual situation with more sensitive perception of the events, as it is usually considered that the warriors are the men. But the book proves that a woman can be also a really strong personality and is able to overcome the worst troubles in this life. She was arrested and sent to different camps, as she was announced to be “the enemy of people”. This accusation by the way was changing by the end of the book, turning into even stricter one – “international terrorist”. She lost everything that was really dear for her in her life: children and her work. It is hard for the reader not to feel sympathy with her, but the style of writing of the author doesn’t dispose to feeling sorry about her life, the light and simple manner of her writing would sooner make look for something better in this life, make do everything possible to overcome all difficulties and hardships of reality. But the point is that the main heroine was not the one to choose this kind of trials in her life. On the contrary in the book by Erich Maria Remarque – “All Quiet on the Western Front” – about a lost generation of young people going to war and dying there being only 18-19 years old. It seemed to be their own choice to stand up for their country and fight for her and they patriotically applied for the soldiers, but why do they feel betrayed by Kantorek – their former school master, who was persuading them to go to the war? Maybe because the war turned out to be a much greater tragedy than they had expected, or maybe because they were looking for some honour and glory instead of wounds and deaths around.
In spite of this difference the both books are about people, who were taken out of their usual lives and surrounding and harshly put into some critically hard atmosphere, demanding both physical and sometimes even more moral strength.
Eugenia Ginsburg succeeded to present all the horrors and mistreatment of the prisons, paid a lot of attention to the lives of her fellow prisoners, but her descriptions lacks bitterness and desire to make the readers to feel pity about them. On the contrary she underlines her will to survive and leave all these terrible years behind: “to live, to live no matter what.” She pays more attention to the stories of the friendship in prison and the way people were communicating there. Ginsburg concentrates more on the people themselves than on the tortures they had to go through. She never tries to put any anti-communist notes into her work, she stays rather loyal to her party. Of a primary importance for the author are the psychological sufferings and abuses, as she avoids descriptions of crimes or tortures. Ginsburg even confesses that the better sides of her personality were developed thanks to these years spent in camps and prisons. She and other people were learning to communicate in those conditions, even through writing messages on the walls. Thus one of the main themes of the work was the adjustment of different people to the life conditions they find themselves in and finding the ways of communicating with each other even in some terrible, horrible conditions, finding a way to stay no matter what human beings with feelings and common sense. This theme finds a straight reflection in the book by Remarque, but in this book the author is more concentrated on the brutality of war: like for example presenting the descriptions of rat-infestation or nerve attacks, descriptions of tanks, airplanes, guns; even tending to present the people as animals, who look more like animals when they loose the signs of humanity during the battle and even when they are eating mass-prepared food. But on the other hand the author underlines the unity of the people, who were destined to become soldiers, the narrations is told by one of the main heroes – Paul, but really often instead of using “I”, he uses “we”, which is already a sign of his belonging to others, not being a separate individual. Paul even manages to find a good thing about the war – the way the soldiers are put together, both their trainings and hardships and horrors of war did their best to unite strange to each other people, make them find common language even in such conditions. Remarque even uses sexuality to show how much the soldiers care for each other – arranging romantic meetings for each other and even a kind of homosexual attractiveness Paul feels for Kat as they cook together.
The general contrast of the plots of these two books could be seen in the meaning of most moving points of them. In “Journey Into the Whirlwind” – the highest peak of the narrations if when the main heroin gets to know that the one, who earlier accused her was in the camp and was going to die. Eugenia Semyonovna not for a second felt the desire to revenge, as this would be absolutely against her nature and her life principles. She, as most others, who were sent to jails without any real reason for that, isn’t still against the Communists party, the book provides a very good insight into the minds of Communists, raised by Stalin. But nevertheless, the author draws some parallels between Soviet Communism and German Fascism, as both were the systems of law, accusing people even for just telling political anecdotes or jokes. The example of this comparison is the episode with prisoners, transported by cargo trains, it was close to the way the Jews were treated during Hitler’s “Final Solution”. So, even the climax of the story lacks cruelty and reveals the best sides of a human soul. In “All Quiet on the Western Front” the climax of the story is the Paul’s killing a human being for the first time, this is a perfect way to make the readers penetrate into the realities of war, not of the war bringing honour, glory and adventure, but into the war bringing only deaths, ruins and sufferings. This point in the story is harsh and tough comparing to the situation with Eugenia Ginzburg, described above. Remarque tends to dramatize the psychological and physical damages the war brings to people. The end of the story, where almost all heroes are dead also contributes to the main message of the author. Another difference of this book is that Remarque pays attention to the fact that the men, who went to the war were rather young, they didn’t even have time to enjoy the best moments in their lives, on the contrary they saw too much of violence and deaths.
The approach of the authors in these books to the matters of patriotism also varies. As it was already mentioned Eugenia Ginzburg didn’t tend to feel hatred or disappointment against her party, whereas Paul and his friends in “All Quiet on the Western Front” started gradually to feel disgust against the speeches of Kantorek and became rather cynical regarding patriotism and nationalism, which is no wonder, as their lives were ruined and filled with terrible war experience. But what unites the two stories is the imperishability of the ideals, suggested by the political leaders, which in reality turned out to be pure fraud for common people, who nevertheless had to pay really big prices for realizing these ideals.
Thus the both authors treat the same theme of interpersonal relations, but they apply different methods and techniques to show the unique nature of human communication and ability to survive as personalities under any hardest circumstances. The technique of Ginsburg is more “gentle”, she tells the readers about the people’s sufferings and inner world on a more subtle level, the method of Remarque is more direct and naturally oriented, but this doesn’t make it lose in presenting the deepest emotions and concern of people. Readers can not simply contradict or equal these two works, they both have their unique nature, unique method of presenting the events, describing characters and certain historical backgrounds, but on the other hand the main matter of concern of the authors are very much alike in both books, in general there’s no difference whether people are at war or at a political camp, if they are made to forget about their native land, about their families and friends and have to find the way to build relations with others, who are absolutely strange and at the beginning have very little in common, just were put into the same conditions, where death has become a common thing. The readers might feel shocked when reading how Paul tells about casualties in “All Quiet on the Western Front”. The words of Stalin, who once stated that the death of one person is a tragedy and deaths of millions is only a statistic could be a good basis for the story like the one of Eugenia Ginsburg.
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