The following research paper with deal with the literary analysis of three great works by authors who lived and worked in completely different eras. The works that will be discussed are: Candide written by Voltaire, Common Sense written by Thomas Paine, and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. To begin with I will analyze every of three works separately and then I compare and contrast the topics discussed by authors as well as the styles their works are written in.
Voltaire’s work is a response to 18th century historical events and philosophical trends. In his novel he ridicules at the noble classes, war and the Church. In fact, in many of his works tyranny, oppression and the hypocrisy of Church is the main target. Candide is a story about a young man, named Candide who is a lovely fellow with naïve and simple personality. At the beginning of the novel Candide is excluded from Baron’s castle because he is caught kissing Cunégonde. Cunégonde is a young and radiantly beautiful daughter of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh. After the explosion from the castle he sets out for travels, though he is forced to join the Bulgarian army. Candide is not prepared for the brutalities of war, he has a very tender character, he has never seen viciousness and cruelty before. Some time after Candide flees to Holland, where he meets Jacques the Anabaptist, and finds the philosopher and his former teacher, Dr. Pangloss, who is then a beggar and is suffering from deathly diseases. There in Holland Candide is notified that his sweetheart Cunégonde had been raped and disembowelled by the Bulgarians.
Being head over heels in grief Candide decides to leave Holland. Candide’s new friend Jacques, the advocate of adult baptism, takes care of Candide and Pangloss, he sails with them to Lisbon. As ill luck would have it, the ship drowns and Jacques dies, while Candide and Pangloss survive, though all the get to see is the outcome of the devastating earthquake that destroyed Lisbon. The world around Candide seems to fall apart, though Pangloss tells him not to get upset because the world is still the most amazing place to be living in. That is one of the major topics of the novel – optimism. The message of the story is that everything that happens, happens for the best, that everything is part of some conspiracy that may not be obvious at the moment. This idea represents ideas of other philosophers of Enlightenment that proclaimed that as God is perfect, then the world he has created is also perfect.
At the island Candide reunites with his sweetheart that was only partly disembowelled. He kills the people she was working for and escapes Lisbon. After Lisbon fate takes Candide and his love, as well as people close to them all over the world. At the end of the story we see that Candide settles on the farm with Cunégonde, the old woman, Martin, Cacambo, and Pangloss. We see that men like to start philosophical debates on various topics, finding it a rather amusing way to pass the time. Though, at some point Candide declares that the debates should be stopped because they are simply a waste of time. He proclaims that one should spend more time working (“cultivating one’s garden”) because it is the only way to be saved from dullness and obliteration. This is the second major topic of the novel, in which philosophical speculations many times prove themselves to be useless. Voltaire believes that thinking exceedingly keeps people from taking real actions and assessing the situation correctly.
There are several other topics raised in the novel. To begin with it is the sexual exploitation of women. What is remarkable that for the author and the male characters such state of things does not seem to be shocking, on the contrary they do not consider it to be a big deal. Another topic is religious and political oppression that is often witnessed by the protagonist. Finally, Voltaire emphasizes the outstanding, though destructing power of money. When his character earns a fortune he sees that the entire barriers on his way disappear. Voltaire is upset by such reality, though he has to accept it.
The Common Sense was a pamphlet by Thomas Paine, in which he challenged the authority of the British government and the royal monarchy. The content of the pamphlet was very controversial, that is why it was firstly published anonymously. The main idea of the pamphlet was to suggest independence from the British. As Thomas Paine wanted to target all the groups of the society by his work he chose to write it in a very simple language, so it will be understood even by simplest people. The pamphlet is divided into four parts, in each Paine suggest arguments that speak for the separation from the British. The work is written in a bright and witty style. Each argument presented by the author is supported by evidence and examples, this makes Paine’s arguments sound convincing (Wood, p. 55). As Paine states, “I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense…”
What I find very interesting about Paine’s Common Sense is that even though he had strong anti-religion believes, when it came to composing his work he did it in style of a sacred text. Furthermore, Thomas Paine used many Biblical references to support the arguments he was putting forward. This tool was used primary to have a stronger influence on the colonial settlers, for whom religion was a very big part of life. What strikes a modern reader in this book is the great structure the material is presented in it. The pamphlet deals with very serious and important subjects, however it is easy to read, it is not filled with excessively complicated words, and it is structured in a way that is easy to be referenced. This pamphlet, written centuries ago, today is a great way for us to see what the life was really is in the colonies, as well as how and why the independence of America came about.
The third work I would like to talk about is “All Quiet on the Western Front” written by Erich Maria Remarque. As the name suggests the novel deals with the topic of the war, particularly the World War I. The story dwells upon a young man Paul from Germany and his friends that are forced into joining the ridiculous war right after they graduate from high school. The book can be considered to be somewhat biographical because Remarque himself was a soldier in the World War I, moreover, he was badly wounded during the war and had to spend a lengthy period of time at the hospital. Thus, knowing what the war really is about, Remarque does not romanticize the war and war glory, he tells the real story about the war. His narrative does not simply show that he considers wars to be useless. Every scene in the book and even every sentence illustrate that Remarque is strongly antiwar, because it is brutal, cruel and worthless.
In a nutshell, the protagonist and his friends join the army influenced by the speeches of their teacher. Though, after several weeks of training and constant humiliation by officers, they see that an army is not a place where they belong. All of the boys arrive to the front being sweet and naïve, however after several months they all, and Paul in particular loses the feelings of sensitivity and grief. Still, not only Paul becomes harsh and cynical, he also shuts down and is unable to share his war impressions with anyone, even the close ones. Towards the end of the novel Paul’s friends are killed as well as the war is expected to be over shortly. Though, Paul understands that he would never be able to be the person he was before the war, he realises that he would not fit in the peaceful world. He is killed on the last day of the war, when there is no fighting, when everything is quiet. The reports for the days say that “All quiet on the Western Front”.
There are several fundamental topics raised by Remarque in the novel. The first topic is, for sure, the brutality and worthlessness of war. Many times in the novel Remarque shows that the war does not bring anything good, while it does have the destructing impact on the people, the countries, and the whole world. Remarque detests the WWI in particular because it is the first war fought on such a scale due to the new technical advancements. Second topic is the psychological and physical effect of war on the soldier. Remarque stresses that even though Paul was not wounded that many times physically, he is totally broken emotionally. Third topic is the unreasonable nationalistic pressure officials put on the citizens to force them into joining armies. Remarque’s criticism of nationalism is shown through the characters of a school teacher who talks the young boys into joining the privileged army.
The novel is written in a very easy language, with almost no metaphors and epithets. This is so because such literary tools are used to romanticise novels, while Remarque wanted to emphasize realism. The novel is very poignant and what is more touching is the way the story ends. The reader does not expect Paul to die when he does, though the he/she is happy, realising that this is the only way out for Paul, who would never be able to function normally in life.
It can be said that analysing the above presented novels is rather challenging. This is because they were written in totally different times and thus, it may be assumed that they cannot be compared. However, when taking a closer look at the three works one may see that some topic they are dealing with relate. To begin with, all three pieces carry a political or more anti-political message. In Candide, Voltaire points out the political oppression people have to experience. He underlines that regular people are simply pawns in hands of more wealthy and powerful ones. The same message is delivered by Erich Maria Remarque, who shows that governments do not take into consideration the wellbeing of their people, even the youngest ones. Instead, officials and even school teachers agitate boys to go to the war where they will be brutally killed. The same topic can be traced in the work by Thomas Paine, however, there it is targeted at the British government that only uses America and would not want it to become a sovereign state.
There is no protagonist in the pamphlet of Thomas Paine of course, however the protagonists of the other two works can be related. At the beginning of both stories the boys are young, joyful and naïve. However, by the end, having seen much cruelty, trouble, and pain their character is changed forever. The style of the three works can also be compared. The Common Sense and All Quiet on the Western Front are written in a simple language without any usage of literary tools that would add expression. Thomas Paine chose this style because of the genre of his work, which cannot be written otherwise, while Remarque was the advocate of literary realism and did not want to romanticize his works. Voltaire’s language, on the other hand, is “richer”, however, this can be explained by the time period the novel was written.
In conclusion it must be said that these works, being written centuries apart do deal with related topics. There are many lessons we can learn from these tree works. From Candide we can learn that sometimes thinking too much is harmful and not beneficial. From the Common Sense we can learn how to put forward arguments and support them by strong reasoning. While from All is Quiet on the Western Front we may get a hint of what people had to go through during the times of WWI and WWII. This will probably make us appreciate what we have better.
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Wood G., “the American Revolution: A History”, New York: Modern Library, 2002. p. 55