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Two Literary Essays

Erich Maria Remarque, in his anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front, presents a far more optimistic portrait of human nature than does the largely deterministic psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in the latter's Character and Culture. However, the two works do not stand in utterly stark contrast to one another. Certainly one could come away from Remarque's novel in a state of despair with respect to the future of the human race and its ability to survive its own destructive impulses: "I am so alone, and so without hope" (295). And despite Freud's basically deterministic view that irrational and aggressive forces drive that same human race and make war inevitable, it is also possible to find in Freud some sign of hope for the race: "A little more truthfulness and upright dealing on all sides, both in the personal relations of men to one another and between them and those who govern them, should . . . do something towards smoothing the way for this transformation" to a world beyond war (Freud 121). Nevertheless, despite these ambivalences, it is fair to say that Remarque shows individuals to be fundamentally good (as personified by his protagonist Paul Baumer) but subject to corruption by the aggressive impulses of political and military leaders: Freud, on the other hand, sees man as fundamentally controlled by those aggressive impulses.

Remarque is not saying that human beings are thoroughly good inside and out, lest the war about which he writes would have not have ever been waged. On the other hand, he shows that goodness and decency and hope flourish even in the midst of a hellish war. He shows that the individual human being often looks for the best of details in the worst of circumstances:

These are wonderfully care-free hours. Over us is the blue sky. On the horizon float the bright yellow, sunlit observation-balloons, and the many little white clouds of the anti-aircraft shells. . . . We hear the muffled rumble of the ...

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Two Literary Essays. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 12:57, May 29, 2020, from