You might interact with dozens of people every single day. Their words, their actions, their appearance, all form images in your mind, labels that you’ve created to help you understand, or attempt to understand these people. You might think you know their story, but do you truly know these people’s history, the reason they are who they are?
Paul, in All Quiet on the Western Front and Iron Man both face the same problem: they have difficulty getting the people around them to understand the reason behind their personalities and their real situations.
Iron Man is seen as a hero, a genius billionaire who happened to save lives and rescue innocent civilians. He is also viewed a menace, a danger, a threat to national safety and security. However, he is really none of those things. Those who categorize him, whether it is under “hero” or “menace” see only his actions, his flashy suit, his conceited pretense . No one sees or understands the man underneath the costume.
Tony Stark is a real man with a real history. His unhappy childhood had molded the cocky, pretentious persona which he upholds, hiding the truly brave, brilliant and noble man underneath. No one can understand Stark because they did not go through what he did. They do not know what it was like to grow up with more material riches than other children, yet at the same time lacking the paternal care and attention that most children receive a plethora of. In the same way, Paul’s family and peers cannot comprehend the severity of the impact that war had on him, how petty and trivial their everyday problems seem to him, because they did not experience the war the way he did. Most importantly, they cannot perceive the true idea of all the death and destruction that was happening in battle and there was no way for Paul to show them.
Paul sees the world in a new and different light after returning from the war on leave, the same way Iron Man views the world on a different scale than the rest of the world because of his childhood. Both of them cannot explain their actions or their thoughts to others because experiences are too powerful, too emotional, and too painful to speak of. Paul’s friends and family members talk to him about the war and death of soldiers as though they know what they are saying, as if they have all been through it before. They question why he doesn’t want to talk about what he has seen, or why he acts differently than he did before. In reality, none of them have been outside the comfort of their own world, therefore unable to connect with Paul. They try their hardest to relate, but at the same time they cannot help but impose their own opinions on him while he is unable to explain to them how they just cannot relate no matter how hard they try.
You might think you get someone, but in truth you really do not have any idea who they actually are at all. Sometimes, it is hard to get the whole story, because the story is just buried too deep and is too painful to dig back up. We see and talk to so many people each day, and we might feel as though we truly know someone. However, everyone has a story, a history that explains the person they have become. Do not be so quick to judge or so eager to relate, because from the outside looking in, you have no idea what kind of things that person has had to go through.