Which is way is up? Down? Disorientation at the Front

Something that really fascinated me when I was watching the videos for the blog was when they discussed how disorienting moving across the trenches was. So when this came up in the reading, I was immediately taken aback. In the book, Paul says that “I can no longer remember the direction. Quiet, I squat in a shell-hole and try to locate myself. More than once it has happened that some fellow has jumped joyfully into a trench, only then to discover that it was the wrong one” (Remarque 213). Even before this terrifying encounter, when he is already beginning to unravel from his fear since returning to the front, Remarque mentions how disorienting the fighting is during the war. Often these are scenes where Paul reverts back to a vulnerable, childlike figure and is unsure of his body or his location. I think this feeling of dislocation and disorienting is a phenomenon that is really important to Remarque. Thinking about it, I wonder if it is because Paul and the other soldiers literally become uprooted and lose all semblance of control. Either way, these scenes really moved me. It’s like stories about near drownings; where people can no longer distinguish between up or down, and they are so close to the surface of the water.  Does anyone else have some insight into why these scenes of disorientation are so important to Remarque? I’m wondering if this is a smaller component of something larger, like shell shock.

2 thoughts on “Which is way is up? Down? Disorientation at the Front

  1. I think it’s a combination of both how the trenches were built and that Paul is starting to show symptoms of shell shock. When you’re not above ground and all you have to look at is the sky, I can’t even imagine how weird it would feel to move in the trenches and not know what direction you’re going. Soldiers probably felt that a lot in the frenzy of getting ready for battle and doing other duties, so I think that’s one reason Remarque emphasizes it. In terms of shell-shock (and PTSD as a whole, for that matter), someone who’s experiencing symptoms may not be completely aware of their surroundings or orientation.

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