All Quiet on the Western Front: Preface

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

A preface can be easy to skip, especially when it is only two sentences long like the one found in Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. Let's take a look at those two sentences to understand their importance.

A Dutch copy of the novel.
dutch

Why Preface With Prefaces?

We've all heard the expression about seeing the world through ''rose colored glasses,'' and it's true that the lens through which we look can change the way we see things. That is why prefaces are important to books. A preface is an introductory bit of writing provided by an author at the start of a book. It is intended to help us understand how we are supposed to view the book we are about to read. A preface can sometimes be nearly the length of a chapter--or, as is the case with Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, a preface can be quite short. Two sentences long, in fact.

Neither an Accusation nor a Confession

While the entire preface is only two sentences long, it succeeds in sending a powerful message. The first thing it tells us is that this book is ''neither an accusation nor a confession.'' Written from the point of view of a young German soldier, this story of World War I could easily be either or both of these things, but instead it strives to be something more universal. Several times during the novel, Paul Baumer, the narrator and main character, comments on the shared misery of soldiers on both sides of the fight. Nowhere is there found any finger-pointing accusation or any self-deprecating apology. Instead, there is a general lament as the groan of suffering rises up--not from enemy combatants, but from humanity.

Least of all an Adventure

There is always some danger in war novels of things being romanticized into an adventure. Not so here--and Remarque is sure to tell us this outright, stating in his preface that ''death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it.'' The story which follows holds true to that, giving depressingly honest details about life on the battlefront. Latrines, lice, and panic are all ever present among the soldiers. None of the soldiers are elevated to hero status, but all are presented as fallible, suffering humans.

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