Cultural Identity in Arch of Triumph (novel)


This work presents the analysis of the novel by Erich Maria Remarque known as Arch of Triumph. It talks about the national identity of emigrants with respect to the cultural differences and national diversity. This novel is by the German author and the work Arch of Triumph is one of the three best-known masterpieces. It has become famous due to the special insights in writing at the time of the First World War that brought many notable ideas to the masses.

The author managed to bring his literary triumphs to the public because of personal difficulties in the hazardous years of the war. In fact, Erich Maria Remarque represents an example of the person who suffered from the Nazis. When they came to power, the author moved to Switzerland and lost his German citizenship (Anderson, 1991). As a result, his books were burned and movies based on his novels were banned. This is one more example of an expatriate who resided in the United States. His life reflects the plot of the novel Arch of Triumph where the author describes how the doctor escapes from the Nazis and considers practicing medicine in the context of the criminal injustice. Overall, the Arch of Triumph novel is about nationless refugees who lived in Paris during the Second World War.

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This book became the best seller while the author lived as an expatriate in the United States for eleven years until 1948. In fact, this novel became the scenario for several movies in 1948 and 1985 (Tomlinson, 1991). A deeper outlook on the novel addresses the year of 1939 when Ravic, an extremely talented surgeon from Germany, performs surgeries without having any permission. At the same time, this surgeon is a homeless refugee who lives in Paris and works as a ‘ghost’ with people for several years. Most importantly, such an illegal medical surgery practice takes place on behalf of other physicians who are less skillful. Overall, Arch of Triumph is an intricate romance during the time of war referring to the cultural identity of a refugee physician who performs under the untrue name. He has no possibility to get back to his home country and constantly strives to avoid the everyday risk of getting into jail or even being subject to  deportation. Nevertheless, Ravic manages to persevere during the time he is looking for the Nazi who persecuted him in Germany. Consequently, he ends up thinking that there is no love for him, which promises him no more romance and may lead him to the worst time of his life (Eriksen, 2001).

One day, he saves Joan Madou from performing a suicide due to the unexpected death of the beloved one. In some time, he manages to find a job for her as a singer at the local nightclub with the help of his solitary friend, Boris Morosov, who works as the door attendant. After a while, Joan falls in love with Ravic, which is ruined since Ravic gets deported and Joan becomes the mistress of prosperous Alex. In the intervening time, Ravic strives for the revenge against that Nazi officer while the war continues between Germany and France. Obviously, Ravic has no interest in getting back to the Nazi Germany, which also reminds him about losing his residency. Such a state of affairs makes him exist illegally at any place in the Western Europe that is not that deeply involved in the war. Nevertheless, Ravic does not give up (Remarque, 1945).

This represents the situation when many people reside in different places with no citizenship and are on the verge of losing their cultural identity. Ravic is an example of many people who have no legal documents and face a daily threat of being arrested and deported to the other country. The novel turns out to be the masterpiece of the author that illustrates personal experience of such life scenarios. It also provides target readers with the emphasis on emotional values that are muted with the symbolic perceptions of the war characters. In other words, there are many people today who have no place to live a normal life for the reason of not having passports of countries they reside in, which is one of the records that many expatriates have today (Sparrow, 2014). However, the idea is not just to have a country of living; instead, it is important to have the opportunity to live the life of an ordinary person. The goal is to become a surgeon who does not need to hide from the legal authorities with no need to search for the opportunities to act as a legal physician. It also relates to the fact of having no possessions and being weighed down with the past life that could not be thrown away. It also considers the desire to have a revenge on the man from the Gestapo known as von Haake, whom the main character is looking for in the Paris undertakings. Such a drifting life of Ravic would not have any continuation without at least any romance, which comes in play with Joan Madou who is a European flotsam (Bayart, 2005).

The interest of Joan is a similar search for an emotional relief that is possible with another love that could bring her to life. It occurs that Joan is in need to hold Ravic, but the truth is that Ravic has no opportunity to give her everything she needs. For this reason, he strives to break these relationships, which appears to be in vain in the long run. Finally, the end of the novel turns out to be the lose-lose situation for both of them. On the one hand, Joan is killed by her lover. On the other hand, Ravic actually manages to achieve his goal relating to the revenge, but he is also sent to the concentration camp for the second time; the only difference is that it is a French camp. The position of the cultural identity in the novel is that the world is perceived as sick, referring to corrupt Paris. In this particular city, there are not many people who could live a normal life and at the same time love and die together. On the contrary, the example of the novel is put in the circumstances of hiding (Friedman, 1994). Arch of Triumph emphasizes the experience of people who have challenges with their cultural identity, which is based on the German political refugee Ludwig Fresenburg who was working as a head surgeon in the hospital. As a result of losing his citizenship, he was pushed to employ his medical skills illegally on behalf of several French physicians. It is also important to acknowledge that as of 1939 Ravic had a better life as a refugee than some other inhabitants of the hotel that embodied the people in exile. These people were mostly Jewish, Spanish, German, and Russian (Taylor, 2011).

The drama of the novel consists in the love of a handsome and impulsive woman Joan and Ravic. Their love is indeed a problem for both of them, which is also worsened by the war events. The French police put Ravic in prison when he is offering the first aid to a misfortunate victim, which also results in his deportation to Switzerland. In turn, when Ravic manages to get back to Paris, he finds Joan living with a different person who is an actor. The tragedy is further actions of Ravic relating to his striving to reinstate their loving relationships with Joan, which finally leads to the situation when her jealous actor kills Joan (Bauman, 2004). It is also significant to mention that Ravic fails to save her even having his top surgical skills and efforts. It was still in vain for the reason that the bullet goes too close to her spine and finally leads to the paralysis that is followed by strong pain and agony. As a result, after endorsing the notion of a true love, he kills Joan in order to prevent her agony, which is the act of mercy with the administration of the poisonous injection. Thus, Joan is another romantic relationship that Ravic has lost during the course of his destiny. It should be acknowledged that in 1933, at the time of the flight of his girlfriend Sybil and Ravic from Nazi Germany, she was arrested for the support of her friends escaping from the Gestapo.

This is the time when both Sybil and Ravic were tortured together by the officer from the Gestapo whose name was Haake. It was before Ravic managed to escape from the concentration camp to France (Morley, 2000). At the same time, Sybil most probably was dead. The rest of life for Ravic was emotionally ruined until it was saved by the romance with Joan Madou. Ravic punishes himself as contrary to torturer Haake from the Gestapo whom he meets by chance in Paris. At this time, the Gestapo officer does not acknowledge Ravic and it allows luring Haake to death. As a result, the death of Haake gives Ravic a new internal strength. Overall, the Arch of Triumph is a symbol of France that is embarked into obscurity with the eruption of the Second World War. Even though Ravic faces a dingy future of imprisonment, he is enthusiastically prepared for survival. It turns out that Arch of Triumph is the novel that speaks about the theme of powerlessness of people at war that makes them indifferent to life in the long run. It is possible for the reason of having an internal strength to survive during the cruel time of the totalitarian oppression (Barker & Galasinski, 2001). Based on the considerations above, it is possible to conclude that the novel Arch of Triumph by Erich Maria Remarque is a book that illustrates the story of despair and disillusionment. It denotes the lives of a great number of assaulted refugees who were searching for the borrowed-time way of life in Paris before the World War.

The example of Ravic is a symbol of tragic life of a human being with a profession such as that of a surgeon or others with no possibility to apply their talents in other countries due to having no citizenship (Wolfgang, 1992). This also reflects the cultural identity loss for people who resided in the Middle Europe. The irony that the author puts in the novel is that all the refugees have no other alternatives rather than living as homeless people under the Arch of Triumph. This novel is one more illustration of the idea that people met the unwelcoming vision of Paris before the wartime. It took place against a great common sense of the continental fate (Tomlinson, 1999). The outcome of the tragedy is that there are not many refugees who managed to survive during the Second World War without being prosecuted. The overall picture of the novel is in the critical time of refugees that were pushed to live with no home and right for at least an ordinary life of a human being. Ultimately, Arch of Triumph is the preserved story of a true love that turned out to be a pain for both Joan and Ravic. It ideally represents the poor fate of refugees who are put in the position to survive without having legal documents and no possibility to have the life of other residents (Baumann, 1996).

Cultural Differences

The overall philosophy of the novel is that the destiny of refugees deeply concerns the problem of having loyal relationships as well as no opportunity to survive. In addition, some circumstances that are addressed in the novel represent the strength of people along with the support of the beloved ones. It turns out that the life of any refugee is often related with the loss of the cultural identity. This novel is close to non-sense fiction that only has loving relationships to keep it alive. In other words, the novel is also a representation of the love as a higher power that could resist the destiny. The position of the emotional atmosphere is quite deep, which is felt more thoroughly through the implication of death. At the same time, the overall theme of the novel is related to the problem with the Arch of Triumph that symbolizes over-indulgence of tailored romantic relationships. It is combined with the drawbacks of the tragic end. Nevertheless, it stands out as a romantic novel to position the symbol of people’s strength against all the war difficulties that could stumble upon the world today (Kaldor, 1999).

At the time when people consider the life back during the Second World War, it always reflects the position of Germany that was rather strict. In this case, , the German population was perceived from the negative perspective; however, it should be acknowledged that many German people had opposite views. In fact, they had negative considerations on the concept of war and the position of Nazism. It means that the vast majority of German people were forced to follow the Nazism and its regime or die. Those German people who did not want to obey were pushed to leave Germany for other European countries, while also being forced to leave their professional activities. In other countries, they did not have an opportunity to continue their practice legally, which means being that they became homeless refugees working as ‘ghosts’ on behalf of other less experienced people. Overall, the concept of Nazism was enforced upon the vast majority of German citizens in one way or another (Bhabha, 1996).

The other philosophy of the novel considers the elements of revenge mixed with the need of people in close loving relationships. It could also be reflected as the remedy for the dark life and attempts to control the life of a human being. Arch of Triumph is the novel that tells the story about people seeking a new country of residence while being refugees. The major focus of the novel is on the life of Ravic who suffers from the constant fear of being caught by German officers. It looks as if expatriates are striving to pick up all the parts of their shattered life that has no obvious direction for the future. The character of Ravic is so deep that it represents the cruel life cycle of professional undertakings. For example, feelings of Ravic to Joan are the illustration of the way refugees could question their own lives with a great sense of reality. In other words, the soul of Ravic appears to be broken, which represents that he is lost until he finds another love that may put him back to the reality (Robins, 2006). It is important to think of the ways people could experience love in the most difficult situations. The terms of love are rather challenging for the current state of mind that belonged to Ravic.

The aspect to consider is that the German government does not rely on his qualifications to a great extent. In fact, these people are not aware of the real cultural identity of Ravic and truly believe in their future relief. The perception of love that is described in the book is supported by the position of hope that has no fear in every situation. Overall, the novel is the true representation of tragedy of the World War time as well as depressing experiences of people. The position of the expatriate doctor reflects the need to preserve the humanity, including the obligation to take care of others concerning their political views, race, cultural, and national identity. This identity of Ravic is the representation of the humanity that is positioned through the lens of changes that are so attractive today. This makes sense for the reason that the author demonstrates the life of refugees in exile that is portrayed in Arch of Triumph (Howes, 1996). The sacrifice addressed in the novel closely positions the loss of the cultural identity in the life of a ‘ghost surgeon’ with a borrowed life and a false passport.

The matter addressed in the novel is the fact that the chief German surgeon not only starts practicing his professional life anonymously, but also experiences daily hardships while living the life of a refugee. The outcomes of such life are the loss of the professional name, doctoral status, and personal identity that hurts the most since it resembles the substance of being a human being. This also takes place as a result of both emotional and physical torture of Ravic in the concentration camp in Germany. Thus, his identity has been disconnected from other people, but he is convinced of the need to continue serving people as a doctor. His life is also an indication of loss and despair resembling a nightmare that is referred to as the symbol of a disappearing continent. These marginalized refugees are the vast majority of politically and culturally damaged individuals who are immersed in routine environments. The example of Ravic is the depiction of his survival while striving for the continued performance of his professional qualifications and duties as a doctor merely based on the fulfillment of the life mission as a surgeon (Castells, 1997).

The novel also depicts the striving of the main character since he faces many difficulties not only to continue helping other people by working as a doctor under different names. In fact, he should first consider the ways to find his own humanity in the perceptions of the new Nazi civilization. Hence, the pursuit for the new vision of a human being is the process of recognizing his new status as a hidden surgeon. This is important since he has promised himself to continue his professional duties and help people irrespective of their race, cultural perceptions, nationality, and political affiliations. The humanity conclusions of Ravic represent rediscoveries he has made as a doctor in order to preserve the human nature combined with the desire to live a normal human life. However, it is contrasted with the incredible desire of Ravic to kill the Gestapo torturer Haake when he has a chance. Therefore, at the time when Germany enters Europe and the countries get engaged in the World War, Ravic reconsiders his name and recommences his life mission as a doctor. The final point to address is that after the human nature is able to find the humanity inside, the human race is able to serve the public despite the circumstances (Lull, 2000).

This novel resembles the First World War experiences of people who finally ended their lives in exile. It recollects the destiny of German refugees at the time of war who suffered from the Nazi regime and were forced to emigrate while losing their cultural identities. The example of Ravic is also the case when German refugees managed to live as American expatriates at the outbreak of the war. It takes turns to consider that life in a different country as a ‘ghost’ could sometimes be better than life with a citizenship in home country, which happens to be under the Nazi regime. Therefore, the ticket to Europe and / or the United States was a way out for many refugees who did not agree with the brutal position of Nazism. Besides, many of them resided as expatriates and lived safely in the United States. The character and motive for the novel was the need to position doctor Ravic as the hero and the homeless surgeon who strives to survive despite everything negative in his life, especially the romantic relationships (De Fina, 2003).

National Diversity

This novel could also be reflected as the attempt to create a parody on the personal experience of the author with respect to the quality of life and constant strivings in exile. In this case, Remarque is considered as an autobiographical novelist who refers to the enemies of the cultural identity depicted in the science fiction. The position of the author is also in the attempt to perceive oneself as the anticipated character and an identity that Remarque would have desired to possess in the reality. The example of such life also resembles the position of emigrants who became expatriates and resided in the German diaspora in search for the personal and cultural identity. The psychological context of the novel is the representation of fictional characters as personal identities that were forced to live without an ordinary life in the home country. The progress of the novel refers to the explosion of feelings and faith in the better future for all refugees, which is almost impossible in the life of ‘ghost’ practitioners (Amit, 2002). The revolution made by the author is the representation of the alternative reality that expatriate individuals had to create in order to survive. Indeed, at the time of the war, people are in a great need in the peace for the society, which is not possible due to the position of refugees being the victims of the Nazism.

This is absolutely inappropriate from the position of the lost labor force and comfort that could not be gained without the legal status of the country resident. Nevertheless, there is still hope in the better future that is supported with professional skills that help to cope with pain and enliven memories of the true love. The role model of such people is the instance of the horrible feeling that follows the emotional exposure of refugees who faced the terror, as well as were tortured to death or living conditions close to it (Castells, 1996). The mystery of this novel is in the plot of the fiction that resembles stories of lives and death of intelligent people who did not have the chance to experience true loving relationships in the expected way. Instead, for many refugees this turns out to be the concerned story of grief and pain as a result of losing the beloved ones. It is also combined with the craving for revenge that is followed by the seeking to murder those who hurt these refugees. In fact, the Gestapo officers killed many people, including German citizens who chose not to obey their regime and were pushed to escape, while facing the loss of the cultural identity. Such terrible experiences also recollect the eventual prototype of all Germans who are striving to commit their punishment. At the same time, there is no chance of any reconciliation since these people were hugely assaulted, which resulted in thousands of ruined lives. It also reflects the constant search for peace in the ongoing haunting of refugees in outside countries (Brubaker, 1996). The way of the author’s writing is not for happy endings and Arch of Triumph also ends up with the drama scenario. However, there is still enough room for the optimism of the main characters that is supported by the unthinkable desire to live and love in the complex world of refugees.

At the same time, there is much room for the hope and trust as well as the search for peace despite the overall tragedy of life. It could be for the reason that the author originated from the outcomes of the war followed by the distinction of enemies in the life of refugees and expatriates as a whole. It also refers to the perception of the painful love that still helps the main characters to survive, at least, for some time, which is not easy in the context of the World War and numerous prosecutions. In this case, the fact of living could be perceived as the way to escape from the anxiety and discomfort of the life in exile (Milner, 2002). However, there is still some room for the hidden professional self-realization and insights into the never-ending fear and compassion. The novel is also aimed at positioning the possibility of the bargaining power of Nazism and the control of refugees outside of their countries of residence. Overall, the novel reflects a great impact of the Nazi Germany on the lives of its former residents who did not want to support the Nazi regime. It takes place since the position of being an individual with the cultural identity is what one deserves to fight for with the German enemies. Thus, the Arch of Triumph novel turns out to be the set of both convincing details of the refugees’ lives and fictional expectations of those people who dreamed about a better future while being in exile. Alternatively, the author had a deep understanding of what he was writing about since it was based on personal experiences that consisted of fear, loss of the cultural and personal identities, constant persecutions, and dreams for a better future (Caglar, 1997).

Considerations on the World War and the life of refugees at that time open room for the stressful glimpse of Paris living in the twilight world. This turns out to be the tone of the novel Arch of Triumph, thus recollecting the Paris life of German refuges of that generation opposing the Nazis. As a result, the refugees become both deserters and citizens for their native countries. The example of Ravic illustrates that patients do not see any difference in the surgery of less qualified French doctors. It takes time while being in their shadow since Ravic has a great professional experience and long-lasting surgical practice that is not recognized by patients. Consequently, Arch of Triumph is the title with irony relating to the tidal movement of oppression in European countries that achieved its peak as the Germans came to the real Arc de Triomphe. In the novel, this situation is denoted with respect to the frightening enormity that is outlined in the context of dark Paris of that time (James, 2015).

At the same time, construction of the characters presented in the novel is astonishing. The novel deeply explores perceptions of French refugees with respect to the loss of their cultural identity and life as a whole, which refers to Ravic. On the contrary, the position of Joan in the novel is the illustration of sympathy when Ravic tries to save Joan with an operation but that does not help and she dies in the hospital with Ravic beside her. In addition, the author takes advantage of the dark humor in order to saturate the novel with the overall attitude of people to the period of the World War. The author of the novel also contemplates on the filling of the book with the depth of the major characters. It takes place through the perceptions of the long-suffering acceptance, determined dirtiness, and political awareness that turns out to be a disruption from the position of the novel plot that is more than incidental. At the same time, the novel is merged with two love stories that are followed by death, revenge, and depuration (Werbner & Modood, 1997).

The novel also corresponds to the historical outline of the political paradigm that existed at the time of the World War that also reflects hardships that refugees faced while moving from one country in Europe to another. Everything happens due to the position of the Gestapo that leaves no place to stay for refugees. In this case, the country of deportation makes no sense for police officers, which makes it impossible to survive and, as a result, leads to the break of the cultural identity of the major characters. Moreover, the lives of the major characters is full of long-lasting challenges that refer to the plunging place for living combined with the interlocution of the reality at that time. The outcome of such a position of the novel is that its main characters live in misery and dejected perception of living. It is further contributed with numerous searches of documents to show the identity and with being helpless, while expecting no different outcome except for a continuous humiliation. The other aspect of emphasis considered by the author is the abandoned expectancy of the end and minor occasional performances of courage (Philipps, 2007).


The novel Arch of Triumph by Erich Maria Remarque is a literary questioning story about the miserable time of the World War and the ways people strived to survive based on their inner human nature. The novel also recollects the overall gloomy time for the European countries right before the World War that made the life of refugees as a twilight world. It addresses the lives of expatriates during both World Wars described by the author in the context of political dimensions. The novel addresses implications of German refugees living in Paris. In particular, the author denotes the life of the former German surgeon who works as the ‘shadow’ doctor for several less skilled French surgeons who pay him a scant percentage of the deal. The next illustration of the author is the love of the Joan and Ravic that is positioned in the negative context for both of them. The end of the love story is that the police arrest him. Afterwards, he is put in the French concentration camp and is departed. In turn, the actor whom she lived with shouts her and she dies in the hospital with Ravic beside her. The construction of the main characters of the novel is extraordinary since the author takes advantage of marginal personalities of people. One of the main examples of such characters is the understanding of each other. In particular, when Joan is dying in the hospital and Ravic is near her bed, they are trying to say “Good Bye” to each other. At that moment, they both speak their own (first) languages. Ravic speaks German and Joan speaks French. This could be perceived as one of the deepest examples of the personal identity.

The novel also uses the dark humor in order to minimize the grief and pain of the main characters in the context of changing political attitudes and mocking life of refugees. As a result, the plot of the novel turns out to be incidental. Nevertheless, it is followed by the love story of Ravic and Joan, deportation, and revenge. In addition, the novel is supported with historical insights on the lessons learned today in terms of political repressions in European countries. It is reflected in the lives of expatriates who managed to escape from the Gestapo and Nazism as a whole. At the same time, the author depicts a contestant prosecution of refugees and their moving to other European countries with no opportunities to live the life of ordinary citizens. Overall, the novel Arch of Triumph is an explicit representation of the political life of the wartime that is described as if it was the reality of living at that time. In the long run, the position of Ravic is to survive as a refugee despite constant persecutions and misery of living as a ‘shadow’ surgeon doctor. The atmosphere of the novel is filled with despair and discontent. It is contributed with negative insights into the regular search of fake documents of identity and deserted probability of the deadly end of life. However, there is still the insight into the acts of courage that make the life of refugees a little easier. As a result, it helped them to cope with daily humiliation and the terrifying nature of being without a cultural identity. {t_essay_1}

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