In Erich Maria Remarques book, All Quiet on the Western Front, nature appears as a means of projecting the mood of the book. There are many instances of nature that affect Paul and how he thinks of war and how both nature and war have changed him.
In chapter one for example, the mood is placed by how nature is being described. The first chapter has descriptions about how the flowers and butterflies were so beautiful even if it was a war zone. "The grasses sway their tall spears; the white butterflies flutter around and float on the warm wind of the late summer." (pg 9) As the quote seems to imply, it is showing the current mood and state of Paul which, in context is a peaceful and tranquil one. It also shows his innocence to the horrors of war. The butterflies also serve as a message of his softness towards his situation and the delicacy of the balance in life.
There is another passage in the book when Paul describes the butterflies as being perched upon a skull and fly about the battlefield as if they do not have a care in the world. All this happens as they are shredded by the countless bullets. This is seemingly representing how even in the war, animals, whether they are butterflies or human, die over a rather small disagreement between a minority of humans. The mood that Remarque seems to be presenting is a melancholy comparison between two different animals, thus making a subtle hint that humans are no different than animals, that we are just another animal on the food chain. Again these butterflies are an indication of the delicate balance between life and death.
Another important moment in the nature in All Quiet on the Western Front was when Paul was trying to catch the goose (geese). He used his natural instinct (thus more so proving that when the soldiers are in the combat zone, they are more like animals) to catch the geese which made noise and caused a dog to appear. Paul was frightened of the dog, being that it had become wild, and lay still until he could shoot it and then catch another goose. The whole scene seems to be symbolizing how, even though humans were more advanced technologically, and were fighting this big war, they could still be trumped by something so small and insignificant as a dog. As fearful as war had become for Paul, something as simple as a wild dog could illicit fearful emotions in him that were strange since a dog to him was a common childhood neighborhood pet. And yet, now this dog had become the enemy, just as other men were now his feared enemies in war. Common place childhood things had now become horrible as well.
Another issue Paul and his fellow soldiers are facing is the loss of innocence and the shattering of their dreams. They are forever changed by the reality of war. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war. (pg.88)It is not just nature that has been changed and ruined for them, but more importantly, the nature of man that can no longer remain the same. The horrors of war have not only upset the balance of nature, but it has also upset the balance of man.
A final theme of balance of nature is the symbolism of the soft boots being passed down from one man to another as each man dies. Just as in nature, things are recycled in a never ending circle of life. At the beginning of the book Pauls friend Kemmerich is dying. He has high quality boots and will not part with them even though he knows he is going to die Mller reappears with a pair of airmans boots. They are fine English boots of soft, yellow leather which reach to the knees and lace up all the way they are things to be coveted. Mller is delighted at the sight of them. He matches their soles against his own clumsy boots and says: Will you be taking them with you then, Franz? We all three have the same thought; even if he should get better, he would be able to use only one they are no use to him. But as things are now it is a pity that they should stay here; the orderlies will of course grab them as soon as he is dead. Wont you leave them with us? Mller repeats. Kemmerich doesnt want to. They are his most prized possessions. (pg 16) Just as seeds in nature, these boots find new life over and over again even after the death of the original owner. Life carries on in spite of death.
In conclusion, All Quiet on the Western Front and the nature within the book create more of a metaphor for life and war. The struggles of nature, the struggles between man and the balance of it all underlie Pauls thoughts actions and reactions. It also shows how significant a role nature plays in war and life as well. For Paul, the wonders of nature were still easily recognized, yet made into nightmares by the horrors of war. These beautiful natural objects that were taken for granted as untouchable had been ruined by war. Never again could Paul see the happiness he had enjoyed by everyday natural objects. Simple pleasures had become the enemy within. Now even his mind could no longer enjoy beauty. War had tainted him as it had for his fellow soldiers. And so nature was now as much of a threat to him as death. War had taken a toll on human life, but had now ruined his memories and enjoyment of nature. This intertwining of nature, war and his overwhelming grief of the losses he had to endure change Paul and his friends.The balances between nature and man can never be the same and are significant as it molds and shapes them all. In the end this imbalance is the real horror of war.