Guilt

The scene where Paul kills the soldier was extremely emotional. While hiding in the trench Paul devised a plan to kill in case an enemy gets into his trench. Paul’s plan was to stay alive and the only way to do that was to kill anyone who got into his hiding place. Unfortunately one of the enemy soldiers did get into the trench and Paul stabbed him multiple times. This was the first time where Paul felt any guilt towards killing a man. It is interesting because before his time of leave he was so used to people dying all of the time that it no longer phased him unless it was someone he was close with. Yet, after stabbing this soldier he felt extremely remorseful even though he did not know him at all.

In this scene Paul is thinking of the type of life that that soldier led and realizes that he has a family at home that will no longer see him. That realization breaks him because he then sees the soldier as a human that has the rights to live just as much as he does. Paul tries to make himself feel better by saying that he will give money to his wife and write her letters yet he knows that he will never do any of this. However, at that moment Paul is grasping for anything to feel some sort of relief. I found it very emotional because we all struggle with thoughts of regret and his pain really illustrated how he was completely broken from the war.

On a side note, this probably meant nothing but I just want to put it out there just in case. In this same scene, Paul says that the enemy soldier died around 3pm. I found that interesting because Jesus Christ also died at 3pm and as we discussed before a soldier dying for his country can be paralleled to Jesus dying on the Cross as a sacrifice to save people from Hell. On top of this when Paul questions that since he killed the soldier that maybe his wife is now his. This reminded me of Jesus giving his Mother to St. John and all of us as he was dying on the Cross. Not sure how that would connect to this scene, maybe to further show how in a sense that soldier was a sacrificial lamb too? I’m not sure but that part in the Bible immediately came to mind when I read this scene. Any thoughts?

4 thoughts on “Guilt

  1. This was a very significant scene because it is the first time he kills without the distance of a mechanized weapon. The way the killing happens is also very important because he doesn’t even see or take in who he is killing; the way it is described makes me think he did it blindly, savagely, to defend himself. As you mentioned, he has a hard time distancing himself from this murder; it suddenly becomes harder to dehumanize him. This scene and the ones that follow were interesting to me because you can see how this ability to distance himself from war, ever since his return from leave, keeps flickering; it doesn’t remain constant at all. He has periods where he is so scared, he can’t control his body; he starts to really think about the person he kills; and then in between he becomes stoic and hard, but never for long.

  2. To me, this scene outlined the idea of each soldier’s purpose in fighting the war. The soldiers had the opinion that they were essentially fighting a fight that was not theirs. They talked about how the generals on both sides should have a gladiator styled fight where the winner would represent the country who had won, instead of young soldiers dying. And later on, they discussed how England had never personally offended them, so why should they be risking their lives to fight them? With the soldiers unable to come to terms with the purpose that they were fighting in the war, they made it about comradery. I think that when Paul saw the soldier whom he had just killed, he was not able to see him as an enemy. He saw him as a reflection of himself and his comrades just trying to protect each other to stay alive, and return home.

  3. I too definitely saw strong spiritual parallels in this passage. After Professor Scanlon mentioned your post in class while we saw the stages of grief displayed on the board everything connected. For me it was not so much the scene in the Bible where Jesus gives his mother away but the scenes of grief besides sorrow that are so vivid in the Passion narrative. I think these roles take on new meaning when applied to this novel.

    I do very much see Paul at some stages as a sacrificial lamb, or Christ figure when we consider John 15:13, that being said I am not so sure that Paul dies out of love more than he does out of duty.

    In this sense I feel like the German government and those who are shielded from the horror of the war betray Paul much like Judas betrayed Jesus. Though, salvation both for mankind in the Bible and Paul from his own misery must come through death we can not help but see how trust is shattered through this inevitable act.

    Similarly, Paul’s role changes as he goes through the stages of grief, he takes on different persons from the Good Friday readings. When he denies the death he has caused, he reminds me very much of Pilate who washes his hands of Jesus’s blood and therefore by the sin of indifference allows him to be crucified by not attempting to feel the guilt of sending a person to his death.

    The soldier mentality is very much something I wish to further explore in reference to the Bible, as deserters like Detering could become a Peter figure too. Even the fact, that the Roman soldier who pierced Christ on the cross, echoes the death scene in this book as though one side ultimately wins, both are damaged because of it, seeing this as the proverbial “wound that never heals” phenom of war.

    I am glad you posted about this because to me there is so much richness to be extracted from the spiritual metaphors you can see in context to this novel. You really could do a whole class on it.

  4. I also found this scene interesting because it shows more clearly the devastating effects on the psyche of a type of combat we have (since WW1 it seems at least) begun to move away from.

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