In the first chapter of “All Quiet On The Western Front” you are instantly introduced to the war. Despite being on break and everything seeming good as the soldiers feast, we later are introduced to the brutality of the war. However, before that we learn about all the characters. They all are different in their own way, but together they have formed friendships. We also learn of the “currency” used. On page 2, after receiving rations, Paul Bauer states; “I have exchanged my chewing tobacco Katczinsky for his cigarettes”. This shows the bartering system the soldiers used, an element in ancient societies. The horrors are presented at the cooks shock when he realizes that despite cooking for 150 soldiers he will feed only 80. 70 soldiers had been killed. Later on, an example of how when experiencing the worst, even the simplest things become enjoyable is presented. The soldiers are immensely happy with simply being able to sit on a wooden box, on page 9 Bauer says;” One could sit like this forever”. The brainwashing in schools was presented as the soldiers recall how their teacher Kantorek convinced them to join and not joining would mean being looked down upon by society. Then he states how their teachers were their window to the world and they trusted them, but they simply misinformed them. When the first bombardment occurred they realized the true terrors of war. Next, they visit Kemmerich and have to lie to him about his treatment. He had his foot amputated, but his own friends had to act as if it didn’t happen not to worry him. After the visit they discuss and realize that Kemmerich will not make it. And the chapter ends on that note.
Chapter two begins with a recount of a poem Baumer has, but on page 19 he reveals how, “Our early life is cut off…” and how war changes a young soldier. They can forget their life. We learn of how the constant death motivates Muller to steal Kemmerich’s boots as he will pass away and the infirmary staff will just take them for themselves. The youth of the soldiers has been taken away as death is so common to them that it does not faze them as much as an average adult in today’s society. Baumer then describes how the training completely changed them for the worse. He claims to have learned more from ten weeks in training than ten years at school and how they had done everything to knock the eagerness and enthusiasm out of the soldiers (pages 21/22). Also, how a “braided postman should have more authority over us than formerly our parents” (page 22) shows how disciplined the military is.
Then Baumer shows how being under Himmelstoss he had to do very tedious acts because of how disciplined and strict a postman could become. It is an example of how power can go to ones head. It shows how totalitarian or autocratic governments can form. In order to keep their jobs the staff must be strict for the soldiers need to be trained to be ruthless. It shows how war can deprive humans of any humanity essentially. Throughout history we have seen terrible acts committed in war time by people who had been “normal” before the war. We then have to deal with Kemmerich saying that he will die and Baumer misinforming him. Baumer reminisces about his friendship with Kemmerich and how his death is different. As he dies, Baumer calls a doctor and the doctor does not even know who Kemmerich is as he has “amputated five legs to-day”(32) and how 17 deaths had already occurred in that day. The chapter ends with Baumer bringing Muller Kemmerich’s boots.
In chapter three, all of the dead soldiers are replaced by new soldiers and the social hierarchy is present as Baumer and his friends are older and have more power over the younger, new soldiers. The setting is very grim with the soldiers not even having proper beds and having to sleep in an abandoned factory. War has ravaged the area and we learn how during this period poverty was immensely present as an artilleryman says, “You wont find so much as a crust of bread here” (38). Kat eventually does get food for the soldiers, however it is due to his immense ability to attain items. Kat also begins to question certain aspects of training like why saluting is so important and practiced. This shows how when one is often alone with their thoughts they question everything. It is a reason why rebellions in history can occur and maybe Kat will rebel. In addition, Krupp and Kat bet a beer on an air fight. They simply bet on one’s life, showing how regular death is in WW1. The boys discuss how Himmelstoss let the power get to his head and explain it as “that’s just the uniform” (43). Being an instructor he essentially abuses power because he gains it all at once. The boys also discuss how it is human nature for one man to have power over another, showing that social hierarchies are human nature. The chapter was overall a discussion of the military and training.
Chapter four is all about sheer fighting. “The roar of the guns makes our lorry stagger,”(53) shows just how much weaponry was used in this war. Baumer describes how the earth is a soldiers friend during a bombardment as instinct forces you to the ground to avoid fire and for that moment the soldier has his face buried into the ground for his dear life. “Beside us lies a fair-headed recruit in utter terror” (61). This quote shows how a young adult who signed up for this war was terrified when he actually was in battle. The youth were brainwashed during this period to believe that war would not be so bad and joining the military was the standard. When Detering says, “I tell you it is the vilest baseless to use horses in the war” (64), a change in ideology through history is present. All through history horses were used, especially by the Mongols in war-time, and this was rarely looked down upon, but now it may be. The attacks in pages 66-67 have immense symbolism as the soldiers seek refuge in a graveyard. It shows how they are surrounded by death both figuratively and literally throughout the war. On page 68, there is true suspense as the soldiers must brave a gas attack. Baumer recounts seeing the terrible things gas-attack patients went through and fears for his own life. It shows the struggle soldiers often had knowing that one mistake in putting on their mask could cost them their life. “The graveyard is a mass of wreckage. Coffins and corpses lie strewn about” (70-71). This quote shows how bombardments in WW1 destroyed the earth.
In chapter five, the first signs of defiance are present. Tjaden argues with Himmelstoss and does not listen to his commands, directly disrespecting his superior. After Himmelstoss leaves, the boys discuss Tjadens potential punishment and bring up the fact that, “Well, for the time being the war will be over so far as I am concerned,” (83). This reminds me of when in eighth grade, while learning about WW1, we learned of the illusion that the war would be short with Wilhelm II saying that the German troops would be home before the Autumn leaves fell. The boys begin to feel homesick in my opinion as they think of life in peacetime, but eventually realize that their lives are not planned out and what they learn in school is “useless” because it did not help them in the war. I found it interesting that through this book we are able to learn much more about the thoughts of these soldiers than we would in a classroom reading a textbook. Albert sums it up with, “The war has ruined us for everything,” (87) and Baumer says, “We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces,” (88). These quotes are very powerful as they show how the soldiers are just teenagers who still haven’t planned their lives and have already experienced terrible things.
In chapter six, we learn of the German army’s fading morale because of worn out weaponry. This is often a deciding factor in war and could have led to the eventual German loss in WW1. The German military is beginning to crumble as the English have better weaponry and the trenches are in worse condition, showing other causes to the Central Powers’ eventual loss. One of the striking aspects of this novel is the descriptiveness of the mental aspects of war. Following a bombardment Paul Baumer describes the scene in the parapet, saying,” One lies down in silence in the corner and eats, the other, an older man of the new draft, sobs,” (106). Another soldier goes insane with Baumer saying, “The first recruit seems actually to have gone insane. He butts his head against the wall like a goat,” (111). The soldiers are shell shocked and mentally destroyed, it is worse than physical injury. In addition to fighting other soldiers, they must deal with rats who gnaw at all of their food.
These rats may spread disease as they have done so in history (Ex: Black Plague) and make this war worse. Days later a wounded soldiers cries can be heard. The soldiers must find him as the cries pain them, however it is very difficult as they cannot tell the direction. For two days they hear his cries and they slowly get weaker as his mouth gets drier. It is a grim scene that shows how brutal this war was. The pressure to have the most soldiers in this war is evident when new recruits are sent and Baumer describes them as having “had hardly any training” and are “almost more trouble than they are worth” (129). Paul Baumer describes all the death and injury around him and shows how much the soldiers do not like the war. Even the very patriotic Himmelstoss refused to go out and fight at one point. The chapter ends with a powerful sentence, just “Thirty-two men”(136). The company started with 150 men in summer and now in autumn has only thirty-two left. Remarque emphasizes this point by repeating the number and ending the chapter with it, to show the constant death.
In recent parts of this novel, Baumer begins to think of how he’s changed mentally. I feel Remarque does this to enhance the realism of this book and show how war has psychological effects on a soldier. Paul Baumer says, “Just as we turn into animals when we go up to the line, because that is the only thing that brings us through safely,” (138-139). This quote reminded me of the book “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding because in that book several boys aged 6-12 are stranded on the island and the boys eventually turn savage like animals just to survive. Baumer essentially says that fighting in war is animalistic but must be done to survive. Baumer also says “Life is short” on page 139. Although this is a common phrase through history it prompted a web search of the life expectancy in Germany during WW1. In 1912 life expectancy was about 50, in 1918 about 30. This saying rings true especially for these soldiers. The boys meet three French girls as they are swimming in a river and sneak out to visit them that night. They must go at night for the river is guarded and nobody can cross.
In the scene where they meet the girls, Paul Baumer appears to fall in love with one despite not speaking French. This is an important part of the book because Remarque takes a break from describing the grim aspects of Baumers story. Paul Baumer is given leave and returns home, at the sight of his sister and mother he is essentially paralyzed. He cries and eventually snaps out of it, showing how much he missed his family. As all seems great, we learn that his mother has been ill for months now and may have cancer, partially ruining this great moment for Baumer. What really ruins it is the realization that he essentially has no life outside of the military. He says on page 1688, “I find I do not belong here, it is a foreign world”. The place he used to call home is now so strange. On his return, he lies often to hide the true horrors of the war. He lies about the dangers to his mother and lies to Kemmerich’s mother saying that he died instantly and painlessly. This is done to not worry anyone and to even prevent Baumer himself from overthinking about the hardships he faces.
Paul Baumer is then sent to training camp before returning and with no real friends, he develops a connection with nature. It shows that in modern day society we don’t appreciate nature until it is the last thing to enjoy. Next to training is a Russian prison camp and this scene shows how Baumer recognizes that they are humans just like the Germans. It is designed for Remarque to show how these people like you and me are kept like animals, being forced to beg for food. He then shows how the soldiers’ lives are essentially controlled by the politicians and how with an order they can kill each other or befriend each other. I also learned about how military service has greatly changed, because Paul’s mother has cancer and an operation is needed, but Paul does not make any money, so his father must pay for it all. Despite sacrificing his life he does not get any money or benefits like present day soldiers.
Paul Baumer returns to the front and unites with his friends. Here they discuss many controversial topics like how if 20 or 30 people in the world had said no to the war it would have never started. Then they discuss how both them and the French want to protect their fatherland, so who is in the wrong. They discuss propaganda and how the German media makes it as if only the Germans are right and the others are wrong. On page 205 Tjaden asks, “Then what exactly is the war for?” This quote shows that the soldiers are fighting in a war they don’t understand, they are like the toys of leaders. Remarque masterfully builds suspense in a surveillance mission with Baumer needing to stay hidden. One quote that truly build suspense is, “Then gradually I realize that to crawl in the right direction is a matter of life or death” (214). This shows that Baumers life is on the line if he doesn’t stay hidden. During the same surveillance mission an opposition soldier falls into the trench Paul is hiding in and Paul stabs him to presumed death. The next morning Paul discovers that the soldier is just wounded not dead and dresses his wounds showing that we are all human and can care for each other. He is filled with guilt and remorse, actually witnessing the man die as a result of his hands (and knife). On page 223 Paul says, “If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert”. Despite being opposing soldiers, all these soldiers are experiencing the same things and if they weren’t fighting a war they could be friends. Remarque wants to show that wars are humans vs. humans, not one country vs. another. Paul is then rescued and tells his story including the part about the soldier he killed. His friends talk about it and relax him saying that it is a soldiers duty to kill the opposition.
In chapter ten, the boys are ordered to stay in an abandoned, bombarded village. This reminds me of all survival movies, books and video games as the boys forage for beds and food, then set up in a concrete building. Albert and Paul are both shot as the French catch them in an open field evacuating a village. They are sent to the dressing station to have their wounds dressed and treated. Paul is in fear as he gets examined by the surgeon as, “… the surgeons in the dressing stations amputate on the slightest provocation,”(242). This shows that during this time period medical care wasn’t that great and it was difficult to properly treat wounds. Albert and Paul are later sent to a Christian hospital as Albert has a fever and Paul fakes one so they can stick together. Here we learn of something grim called the dying room. This is where patients who are about to die are treated, in a room with two beds. The horror and fear of this room is exemplified when one patient, “… cries out feebly with his shattered lung: I won’t go to the dying room,”(258). The patient with damaged lungs pained himself and used all his strength to resist going to that dreaded room. Albert becomes suicidal and makes attempts to commit suicide as his leg was secretly amputated which shows how these hospitals designed to help can cause other problems for soldiers. What Paul states is enough to summarize the book, “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow,”(263). Paul heals and is then sent to the front lines, but he must separate from Albert who must fully heal then will be sent home.
Paul discusses in depth how “life” or more specifically the war has changed the soldiers into dull animals so they could survive. He again repeats how they are surrounded by death and injury. He puts it brilliantly repeating several times how they are “artificially primitive”, to show how the war has shaped them to be more animalistic. Paul then tells a story of how one of his friends, Detering, went AWOL. They then heard that he was caught and, “We have heard nothing more of Detering,”(277). This shows that during this time period there was a fear factor for quitting the military, although it was much worse in this war for this military. Paul also brilliantly describes how Detering was homesick, but a court martial who has never experienced the war could not understand. Another of Paul’s friends, Muller, is killed and the boots he inherited from Kemmerich are given to Paul who will give them to Tjaden after (if he dies). This shows that death can occur at any moment.
Remarque repeats “Summer of 1918-,”(285) then describes the horrors of the war to show the bloodiest year and the most hopeless year for the Germans. He American efforts in WW1 are truly shown as in 1918 the Germans are outnumbered in soldiers, working weapons and even food. The Americans reenergized the British and helped them to win the war. Then one of the soldiers Paul respected and loved greatly as well as looked up to, Kat, died. Paul exhausted himself carrying Kat all the way to the dressing station only to realize that on the way Kat had been hit by a splinter in the head. The last page of the book is not told from the perspective of Paul Baumer. For Paul Baumer died in October of 1918. He had a calm expression showing that it was what he had wanted, and this adds up as beforehand he had discussed how his life was torn apart by the war. The name of the novel is obtained from a report of the day Paul fell, it was a quiet day on the entire front. It was All Quiet On The Western Front.