German author Erich Maria Remarque uses the main character Ernst Birkholz to describe life at home in a post-World War I era. The effects of World War I have taken quite a toll and nineteen year old Ernst Birkholz finds himself unable to connect emotionally with many of his friends and family. This is especially true of the relationship with his mother, who cannot understand that although he is merely a teenager, he has aged much more due to the war. To ease his tensions, Birkholz seeks comfort in his friends that did survive the war.
Birkholz and his friends find life at home carries its own set of difficulties. There are protests that turn dangerous. Food is scare. Inflation is a problem. Many of his fellow comrades, like George Rahe and Ludwig Breyer, find life at home so distressing they begin, one by one, taking their own lives. Others choose to turn this anger outward and take others' lives. Albert Trosske, for example, kills his girlfriend's lover after learning she has been unfaithful while he was away.
Not every returning soldier is as pessimistic. Some are able to reintegrate into society and find happiness and productivity. Tjaden falls in love and marries. Willy Homeyer decides to pursue a career in education and becomes a teacher.
In the end, Birkholz chooses to follow a different path than what he was forced to do during the war and what his friends did once it ended. He decides he will no longer devote energy to hatred and ending life and uses these horrible experiences to do what the title of the novel suggests and build a “road back,” making himself once again a functioning member of society.
Best part of story, including ending:
The story gives many viewpoints of War. It does not depict all glory or all desperation, but rather shows there are varying degrees of life for soldiers and civilians once it has ended.
Best scene in story:
The best scene was Ernst's realization that although life for many of the men ended tragically, he doesn't have to succumb and opts not take his own life or continue with hatred.
Opinion about the main character:
Ernst ability to regain his strength despite so many setbacks personally and in society is inspiring.