“Birdsong” by Sebastian Faulks and “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, are two books set during World War I. They each illustrate the traumas and horrors of war during that period of time. These two novels demonstrate how the burden of war irrevocably altered the lives of the characters. The plot of “Bird Song” is complex. It is written in the third person and is set in France, during the early nineteen hundreds.
The book describes a love affair between the main character Stephen Wraysford, an overseas textiles correspondent and Isabelle Azaire, the wife of a factory owner. They decide to elope together and Isabelle becomes pregnant with Stephen’s child. However, Isabelle becomes afraid that Stephen will not accept their child and decides to return home without revealing her pregnancy to him. Several years after Isabelle’s sudden departure, Stephen is a member of the British Army which is stationed in France.
During his time in France, he unexpectedly meets Isabelle and her sister Jeanne. To his disappointment, he discovers that Isabelle had fallen in love with a Prussian officer. However, meetings between Jeanne and Stephen become more frequent and they too fall in love. Sadly, Isabelle dies from an infection and sends her child, Francoise, to live with Jeanne. Stephen then realises that this child was the result of his affair with Isabelle. “All quiet on the western front” is set in Germany also during the First World War, but is written in the first person.
The narrator is Paul Baumer, a nineteen year old school boy. The book is about a group of young German soldiers who are convinced to enlist with the German Army by their school master, and how their lives are affected by participating in the war. These patriotic school boys entered the army with enthusiasm and the longing for adventure. He and his friends become separated by death. Gradually, one friend dies after another till only he himself is left. This book is an account of his life during the war.
Both books highlight the extreme stresses that war imposes on its participants willing or otherwise. Each novel describes the pain and anger of each individual, when they either have to become savages in order to fight and save themselves or they witness the painful death of their comrades. In “all quiet on the western front” Baumer and his companions witnessed a friend of theirs dying while fighting furiously for their own lives in a trench; “Leer groans and props himself on his arms, but he bleeds to death very quickly and no one can help him. This suggests that the situation was helpless. No one could prevent Leers sudden death but they had to prevent their own. The books reveal the truth about war and how it affected those involved.
The soldiers soon realized that the opportunities given to them in their youth, such as decent education and polite mannerisms, were no longer useful to them; “The differences brought about by education and upbringing have been almost completely blurred and are now barely recognizable. Such matters are not even considered helpful when fighting as one hardly needs general knowledge to fight. In addition, the soldiers have very little to survive on. They are constantly short of provisions and they are forced to hide out in lice infested dug outs. Although many entered the army with enthusiasm, they soon found it difficult to maintain those feelings of hope and patriotism.
The few that did survive wished continuously for death to come, in hope that it would end their meaningless lives, full of fear. The humour exposed in “all quiet on the western front” does not turn you away from the reality of war; it merely gives you the implication that the soldiers occasionally enjoyed themselves, and had to laugh even if their death was near in order to keep themselves sane, “Other men make jokes as well, uncomfortable jokes, but what else can we do? Obviously the coffins are really for us, of course.
Arrangements are always efficient where that sort of thing is concerned. ” Both novels revealed many horrific details of the battle scenes, I never imagined that a man could be injured in so many different places and with many different types of weapons, “… those who have been blinded, hit in the lungs or in the pelvis, in one of the joints, in the kidneys, in the testicles or in the stomach… ” It’s pitiful to see countless numbers of men suffer or die from the injuries their enemies caused them; these types of actions imply a strong sense of wasted lives.
Many of them did not even die in honour, they died from infections, or trench mortar shells; but only a small percentage died with pride, involved in the action, fighting on “no man’s land. ” Both books were interesting to read due to the many implications of war. The battle scenes were detailed yet realistic, and all the way through the books, friendship was their main priority. According to Baumer, it was the voice of his companions that provided him with hope and dedication; “Suddenly a surprising warmth comes over me.
Those voices mean more than my life, more than mothering and fear, they are the strongest and most protective thing that there is: they are the voices of my pals. ” I enjoyed reading the account of Paul Baumer because he often explained what he felt inside and how he felt about life in a very philosophical way. He wouldn’t go straight to the point because often there was not a very definite answer to all his queries about life and death; instead he explored his deep feelings to find out for himself what was going on inside and all around him.
The characters were interesting and all very unique in their own ways; all of them had a different view on each topic and were not afraid to express themselves. Most of the time, they each debate about general knowledge and put forward their opinions. It was interesting how the author gradually killed all the school boys one by one including Baumer because it showed the reality of the situation. This book is distinctive as it is written in the point of view of a German soldier.
It shows that they too feel the depression of the war as the English do. There are two armies involved, one is English and the other German, yet both sides feel exactly the same. They fear death and dread life. In “Birdsong” the English portray the Germans to be cold blooded killers with generous supplies of food and weapons, contrarily the German’s portray the English to have all the privileges. The author of “all quiet on the western front” includes you in the characters’ emotions and involves you with the commotion of war.
By using descriptive language he produces detailed writing which forces you to experience all the characters are going through. His sentences are not abrupt or decisive; he explains carefully the process behind the character’s thinking. By inserting all this detail into emotions, it makes the whole story more realistic and enjoyable to read. “It’s as if we were once coins form various countries; we’ve been melted down, and now we have all been restruck so that we are all the same. ” In this quotation, Baumer is describing how the feelings of the men are mutual, every one feels the same. The author composed this sentimental thought from Baumer by using original comparisons; He compared the soldiers to various coins stuck together to produce one dominant coin, in which all men feel the same emotions. The novel ended with the death of Baumer, had it not been sudden it would have been more believable. As the rest of the account was told at a steady pace, the narrator delivered the news of Baumer death abruptly.
I would have preferred Baumer to end the book with his overall views on the war; his feelings on the result of the war remain hidden, it would never be revealed what he thought at that time when the First World War ended. “Birdsong” was enjoyable to read due to its interesting and complicated plot. The author constantly brought in subtle clues and facts about the characters that begin to connect as you read on. Towards the end of the book, Francoise reveals to her own daughter her past which involved Stephen, Isabelle and Jeanne.
The novel would have significant gaps in the story had Francoise not told her daughter about her disruptive past. Francoise ended the book adequately as she tied all the loose ends of the story together, producing a final plot that flowed satisfactorily. The author delivers a well written and thoughtful plot, as the complexity of the story provokes an exciting reaction. I would have preferred the book to contain more about what the characters felt at a particular moment in time; the author spent the majority of the time describing the finer details of the plot, rarely did the characters relate to their emotions.
Despite this, the characters occasionally have no need to explain what they are feeling as it is all very obvious at times; it also appears to be more effective if the author uses a minimal amount of words possible to keep the book simple and easy to read, as this quotation demonstrates. Stephen visits Isabelle for the final time; “He stood up and left the room without speaking… She covered her face with her hands. ” It is unnecessary for the author to explore how Isabelle presently feels as it is obvious and will spoil the effect it has on the reader.
Stephen’s two years silence after the war suggests that what he had witnessed over the past four years was unimaginable; and thus stunned him into silence until he had recovered from the affect. Unlike the ending in “all quiet on the western front”, this gives a slight insight to the views of war. The ending to”Birdsong” was effective as it implied an end to the saga involving Stephen, Isabelle, Jeanne and Francoise and formed the start to a new era in which the daughter of Francoise gives birth.
These books will appeal to any one who is interested in the details of war, life during the war, and the impact it had on innocent people afterwards. Both novels are written very well and they are easy to follow. The complex plot of “Birdsong” made you want to read on constantly, yet the simple plot of “all quiet on the western front” was interesting because it displayed personal emotions and views of the war. Both books give an insight into the tragedies of war.