The Lost Generation

Both Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” and Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” relate to the theme of hopelessness during the lost generation. Remarque’s story is set during the war from a younger German soldier, Paul, through him the suffering and difficulties are presented as fruitless and with out a main goal to look forward to when they return home. Throughout the military travels of the younger soldiers like Paul, Remarque’s view on wars disadvantages on people are clearly stated through the eyes of Paul.
Towards the end of his life, he grows happy to die and is glad to pass away from all the pain emotionally and physically he and his comrades had to endure during the battle. Carrying on through the book is the sense of empty hopelessness that nothing will become good and there is nothing to look forward to after their arrival home. On the other side, Hemingway’s older veteran characters, Jake and Brett, play the role of two empty people who are looking for direction in life after the devastating war.
Jake however becomes a redeemable character through his journey to overcome his psychological and physical damage from the war and gains sympathy. However Brett does not earn any more respect or accomplishes any growth in overcoming her war wounds. This takes its own path in the end when Jake moves on from Brett’s taunting attitudes and starts to gain his balance in life again. Hemingway’s hopelessness is conveyed more positively than Remarque’s critical outlook on war. Throughout both book the characters struggle with their emotional difficulties to stay attuned to their prewar lives and struggle with hope for the future.
However Hemingway takes the path of a more positive ending while Remarque creates a happy doom for his brave, suffering characters. There are many parallels between the characters in each book enough though the themes and perspectives are entirely different. The main point serves the same purpose, whereas the lost generation was hopeless unless they rarely saw a glimpse of the future after recovery. The tone of the overall book has an almost empty and predictable attitude about it, the men have no hope for themselves, and they do not convey a sense of need to get home or to survive but merely to continue to take orders until the end.
The hopelessness conveyed by the characters in “All Quiet on the Western Front” is the kind of hopelessness when you know you cannot personally change the outcome of your fate knowing the future results in death. Most of the reality of the brutal war is exposed through battles or bluntly stated by another distraught soldier. A sense of urgency is not present when knowing that at any moment a comrade could be returning with “screams of intolerable pain. [Knowing] every day that he can live will be howling [with] torture” (72).
The lack of urgency communicates that death is a causal event during war and the witnesses are used to the terrible sight of mangled or dead bodies. Some even accept that they will one day become like those they see in pain and fear life over death. “Every face can be read” on the appearance of each soldier who knows they are subject to the “embrace” of “the front” (53). Faces can easily be read because the same fate awaits all the soldiers, death and no hope. The characters see no future and are trudging along in an empty cycle.
The circle is completed with unfilled desires to keep living when the discovery of Paul with “his face [of calm expression] as though almost glad the end had come” establishes that he was happy to leave pain, suffering and damaged forthcoming opportunities to a peaceful afterlife (296). The lost generation shared a “common fate [which] ruined [them] for everything” upcoming in the future to better their lives such as a family or a job offer as mentioned by various characters but created disappointment at the realization their dreams would not come true.
This contributed to the plummeting feelings the lost generation carried with them. Hemingway disguises his characters want for redemption and amount of hopelessness they feel. The book has a more up beat consistency than “All Quiet on the Western Front” and more is said in what the Jake is not saying than what he and Brett bluntly state. Brett cannot be with Jake because she would “tromper” or commit adultery since Jake cannot satisfy her needs sexually (62). Instead Jake secretively takes a prostitute out to dinner but ends up dumping her on his friends while he leaves with Brett.
Jake did not sleep with the prostitute, Georgette, because he felt ashamed and helpless about his physical injury from the war. He does not feel man enough to sleep with a prostitute, he feels discouraged about his future plans and ability to gain happiness as part of the lost generation. To fill the void opened from war, Jake, Brett and their comrades drink to escape their persisting troubles and pains. Jake has a miserable life and to make it better he finds it easier to get drunk and not fix his problems. “ ‘Don’t get drunk, Jake,’ she [Brett] said. ‘You don’t have to. ’… ‘Don’t,’ she said. You’ll be alright. ’” Brett reassures Jake (245). The pain and emptiness ceases with alcohol and distracts from the wars wounds. Contrasting to Paul and the other lost generation soldiers in “All Quiet on the Western Front”, Jake proves he is able to redeem himself and looks to the future. Jake uses religion as a parallel to his emotional stability. When starting out Jake was not religious and just went through the movements of going to church and “being a good Catholic”, however as he progresses he finds that he should care more about religion and has a want to be more involved.
The parallel of him wanting to be more involved is when he breaks away from Brett and starts off new; and for the first time believes in his future after he returned from the war. Jake’s break through occurred when he “stoop up, gripped with [his] toes on the edge of the raft as it tipped with [his] weight, and dove cleanly and deeply, to come up through the lightening water, blew the salt water out of [his] head, and swam slowly and steadily to shore” (242). As Jake comes out of the water, he symbolizes a baptism and the rebirth of himself into a more understanding and less negative man.
Along with becoming less frightened of the future Jake was able to let go of Brett and her ability to draw men in. He finally cleansed himself of her and his past troubles and looks to days ahead. Rarely does Jake interact with a genuine character, more often does he associates with deceptive, greedy, manipulative or mean people of the lost generation. The main character that is sympathetic is Jake, he battles the most with his physical injury and because of that, Brett puts him through emotional misery.
Even as Brett “kissed [Jake he] could tell she was thinking of something else” and finally understood that she just used him for her own personal benefit (245). After his “baptism” Jake was close to moving on from Brett and almost did until she pulled him back in again. The fact that Brett is thinking about someone else is the last straw for Jake and he is done with her. From this kiss on, Jake is cold and a little immature towards Brett. This signifies his final connection with her emotionally and he takes steps to begin a new life. Brett consciously talks bout her other men with Jake while she knows how he feels about her. She almost flaunts them in front of Jake by complimenting them saying “he’s my sort of thing” (247). Brett is attracted to the bad boys who show her attention but aren’t controlling. She disregards Jake as a candidate for her commitment and love since he cannot satisfy her sexually; she only uses him emotionally then ditches him when a better offer comes along. She is aware she cannot be with him and it hurts him to see her go off with men, however she does nothing to change this.
She even goes as far as to bring the men over to Jake’s place to have a drink. Because of her blatant disrespect for anyone but herself she is not a redeemable character and no sympathy is given to her. Jake is the only character that deserves sympathy while Brett does not even deserve respect from Jake. Similar to sympathy, Jake becomes a redeemable character towards the end of his journey with Brett after the war. He clearly stands opposed to Brett who is neither sympathetic nor redeemable. During Jake’s baptism and revelation, he proves to want to redeem himself, if not to others at least to himself.
He is aware that he is not the most religious man but tries to convince himself otherwise to morally feel better. Jake is Catholic and by the end of the book becomes more religious and understands the meaning of religion rather than just going through the motions at church. He values the importance of God when Brett states she does not really care for him or religion since it’s a waste of her time. Jake at least holds on to that the whole book and increases his religious activities and symbolism towards the end. Not only does Jake morally and mentally redeem himself but he also redeems his time wasted on Brett.
One of their last interactions Jake unmistakably communicates his annoyance and irritation with Brett, “ ‘You like to eat, don’t you? ’ she said. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I like to do a lot of things. ’ “ (250). Jake becomes fed up with Brett’s constant lack of acknowledgement that he is always there for her and not some one to use when her love life is not thriving. He grows tired of constant games and realizes there is nothing left for them together. After more small talk is exchanged between the two, Jake is ready to let her go for good and finally gains enough confidence that everything will be okay with out Brett.
Brett tries to make herself sound more appealing to Jake by explaining, “it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch” (249). Other than making the decision to not be a bitch, Brett makes no other attempt to redeem herself or acknowledge that she played with Jake’s feelings and ruined part of his life for holding on to him for such a long time. She cannot get over her self absorption to realize she messes with men for her own benefit whether it be money or sex, and doesn’t care who she hurts along the way, mainly Jake. There is no evidence that she is a redeemable, sympathetic or a caring character.
Although she has issues because she, too, is considered the lost generation, that does not give her the right to act above everyone else and hurt Jake. Jake also traumatized by the war does not use women to make Brett jealous or ever hurts her. He is always there when he is needed to support her dramatic lifestyle. Brett has no compassion for anyone but herself therefore making her unredeemable and Jake redeemable. Although each stories have their differences in almost all aspects there is one overall main point: the lost generation was hopeless and it was a difficult time for those people.
Each book expresses the same bigger picture but is differently executed. Jake’s tone which represents the overall feel of the book communicates the idea of a ghostly and missing man looking for a happier path in life to escape his sadness and pain. He rarely finds little pleasures and mostly describes scenes as dark or dark imagery, only a few times is light mentioned when redemption or renewal of a character is occurring. Paul’s description of the war gives off a more pessimistic tone as he always comes back to the idea that the lost generation has nothing to return to at home.
However he finds simple pleasures more enjoyable and tries to make the most of them. Both characters portray a sense of despair and loss of direction in life but differently executed. Hemingway chooses to exhibit his characters as striving to change their lives while Remarque’s turns negatively towards death and meaninglessness. Hemingway does not refer to the war but instead barely mentions it or Jake will see military like actions between people symbolizing the war and the lost generation.
The fact that Hemingway does not mention the war, yet the book is about war, further proves that in Hemingway’s writing, what is not being said is more important. The tone is important to both novels to relay the same message but entirely different outcomes and themes. The lost generation was a sad hopeless group of veterans who, if not killed, had to aimlessly go through life feeling like there was no purpose or they didn’t belong. Hemingway and Remarque’s classic novels illustrate the hard times during and after the war and the many similarities that are present.

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