“All Quiet on the Western Front” is a novel by the German author Erich Maria Remarque. Originally published in the German newspaper Vossische Zeitung in November and December of 1928, the story was collected into a novel and published in January 1929.
In its first 18 months of print alone, the book sold 2.5 million copies and was published in 22 different languages. The book’s depiction of World War I struck a heavy chord with many of the former soldiers still living in Germany at the time.
However, Germany’s National Socialist Party, then rising, critiqued the book and it became one of the many books to be publicly burnt when the Nazi’s came to power in the 1930’s. An Academy-Award winning movie was created based on the book in 1930.
The book details the tribulations of a young soldier named Paul Baumer, who is fighting on the front lines in Germany in the first World War.
Throughout the book, Paul must suffer through the horrors of daily shellings, friends dying and the indignity of wartime hygiene. The book deals heavily with a theme of PTSD in returning soldiers and how soldiers struggle with survivor’s guilt and their identity after fighting for so long.
The novel begins with a short statement that reads: “This book is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure for those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war”.
This brief prelude sets up the general theme of the novel as being about a generation of men who were mentally destroyed by the war and now suffer from PTSD.
Chapter one introduces us to the narrator, Paul Baumer who is fighting with his unit of German soldiers during the first World War. In the opening chapter, Paul and his unit are resting after being brought back from the front lines.
The Second Company, though initially made up of one hundred and fifty men, is now down to only eighty. Recently, they suffered a heavy attack and have spent the last two weeks under heavy fire.
Paul tells the reader about some of his fellow soldiers and friends. Three other soldiers named, Leer, Muller and Kropp attended school together and enlisted in the army voluntarily. All of the men are now only nineteen years old.
Some of the other soldiers include, Tjaden, Westhus and Detering, the latter of whom is an older man who has become the unofficial leader of their small group of friends.
Paul’s schoolmaster, Kantorek was the one who convinced Paul and his friends to enlist as volunteers. Kantorek was a heavily patriotic man who convinced many of Paul’s other classmates to join the army as well.
One young man, Joseph Behm was also in the Second Company but was one of the first to die. Joseph’s death was particularly scarring and hard on Paul. After this, he feels that he has lost his trust in authority figures like Kantorek.
Paul and his friends now hate Kantorek and blame him for harassing them to join the army. He writes them a letter glorifying their suffering and calling them ‘”Iron Youth”.
During the last battle, Kemmerich, another of Paul’s classmates, was badly wounded in the leg. Kemmerich’s leg had to be amputated and Paul goes to visit him the following day. Paul realizes from Kemmerich’s sallow skin and wounds that he will probably not live long.
Paul and his friends trade some cigarettes with an orderly in exchange for a dose of morphine for Kemmerich to ease his passing.
Paul must scold Muller from trying to take Kemmerich’s shoes. They decide that they will stay with Kemmerich until he dies and take the boots before the orderlies can steal them.
Before the war, Paul was an artist student. He used to enjoy writing poetry but no can no longer find any poetic thoughts within himself. He feels that he has become cynical and empty because of the war.
He feels that the war has taught him more difficult life lessons than any school classroom ever could have. He further thinks that he and his classmates, as well as the other young men in the war, were stopped from living their lives just as they were starting them.
The younger men don’t have families and children to return home to after the war. They no longer have the innocence of their youth and can no longer look forward to accomplishing the dreams that they wanted before the war. The war has become their whole life.
Paul feels totally removed from humanity and only feels that he can share his emotions with his friends who have also been in the war. Because of this, Paul realizes that he often glosses over their worse sides in his mind. He tries to convince himself that Muller’s attempt to steal Kemmerich’s shoes was reasonable instead of inconsiderate.
As Kimmerich dies, Paul attempts to comfort him. Kemmerich wonders about the life he would have lived and Paul tries to tell him that he might still survive although they both know that this is a lie.
Kemmerich tells Paul to let Muller have his boots and begins to cry. Paul tries to get the doctor but the man refuses to come. By the time Paul gets back to Kemmerich he is already dead.
Paul and his friends receive word that their former Drill Sargent, Himmelstoss is coming to the front. Himmelstoss was very cruel to them in training and forced Tjaden and another recruit who was a bed wetter to sleep in the same bunk, thus forcing Tjaden to be drenched with urine from the man sleeping above him.
One night Paul and his friends waited for Himmelstoss outside of a pub. When he emerged, they proceeded to throw a bed cover over his head and beat him. They managed to get away without Himmelstoss realizing it was them that attacked him.
The Second Company is sent back out to the front lines in order to lay barbed wire. Paul’s Company has been filled with new recruits many of whom are as young as seventeen years old.
Katczinsky, one of the older soldiers in the Company predicts that they will be shelled heavily that evening, as the English army has begun firing earlier than usual. He tells the new recruits how to distinguish between the guns that are firing by the sound of the blasts. The soldiers finish laying the barbed wire and intend to sleep until the trucks arrive to take them back.
Soon, Kat’s prediction proves correct and the soldiers are heavily bombarded. They are forced to scramble for cover. A terrified new recruit hides under Paul’s arm and Paul tries to put the boy’s helmet back on his head but can’t get him to bring his head out. He instead places it on the boy’s behind to protect from bullets.
After the shelling dies down, the recruits come out and realize that many of their horses have been killed or wounded as well as many soldiers. Men are assigned to shoot the wounded animals and this especially disgusts Detering as he is a farmer. He remarks that using horses in war is “vile baseness”.
The trucks arrive to bring the men back but another round of shelling erupts as they are leaving. The men take shelter in a graveyard. Paul takes cover in a hole created by an exploding shell as he reasons that shells never hit the same place twice.
Paul feels that soldiers burrowing in the earth to protect themselves make them return to their more animalistic nature. He feels that he trusts the earth now more than he trusts the air.
After the shelling stops again, Paul emerges from the ground and finds that the new recruit he had protected earlier has been badly wounded. He knows that the boy will probably not survive his injuries. Kat whispers to Paul that it would be more of a mercy to end the boy’s life with a gunshot rather than let them take him away to die in a hospital. Paul debates this but before he can decide other soldiers begin emerging.
In the next chapter, Paul details some of the conditions at the front and how unsanitary they are. The men must pull lice off of their skin one by one and kill them by throwing them into the fire and must fight rats to protect their food. Himmelstoss arrives at the front, having been punished for an excessive discipline of his recruits.
Himmelstoss attempts to order the men around but they ignore him. He orders Tjaden to stand but the other man only moons him in response. Tjaden runs to hide afterward, in case Himmelstoss decides to tell the proper authorities of the disrespect.
Muller asks the men what they think they will do after the war is over and many protests that the war will never end. Those who don’t confess that they cannot imagine their lives after the war and that they feel like the only know how to be soldiers now.
Paul, especially, cannot imagine what he will want to do after the war. Himmelstoss does return with the sergeant-major to punish Tjaden. The men refuse to tell them where Tjaden is hiding and the sergeant-major resolves this by announcing that Tjaden must be in the Orderly Room in ten minutes.
The men decide to torture Himmelstoss as often as possible. Kropp later insults Himmelstoss and he and Tjaden are put on trial for insubordination. Paul and the others testify about Himmelstoss’s cruelty during training, specifically to Tjaden and the lieutenant presiding over the trial decides to give Tjaden and Kropp light punishments.
Soon, Kat begins to feel in bad spirits and since he has a somewhat uncanny habit of predicting what is going to happen on the front, the men take this as a bad sign.
A few days later the dugout they are staying in is bombed. The men must stay inside and take shelter. After days of this with no food, one of the new recruits snaps and tries to run outside, Paul and Kat must beat the boy so that he won’t run into danger.
When the shelling begins to subside, the men know that the French soldiers have arrived. The German’s begin to fight them with a unquenchable fury after having been stuck underground with no food for days. They beat the French back and take as many of their provisions as they can.
While they retreat and begin to eat the provisions, Paul begins to remember his past with sadness. He no longer feels a desire to return to his old life. He feels that desires: “belong to another world that is gone from us”. He thinks that his innocence is gone forever and he is permanently bitter.
Days pass as both German and French bodies pile up. Paul and his friends must listen to one man’s dying screams for three days as the cannot seem to find him.
The new recruits, who weren’t given enough training factor heavily into the casualties from this battle. Paul finds Himmelstoss in a dugout pretending to be wounded during an attack. Paul tries to get the man to come out with threats but Himmelstoss does not move until a lieutenant orders him.
Another battle begins and many more soldiers die. From the original Second Company, only thirty-two men remain. The Company returns to a depot for more orders.
Himmelstoss beings trying to make friends with the men after his embarrassment at the front. He begins bribing them with food and easy jobs. This sways Paul and his friends and even Tjaden begins to feel differently about Himmlestoss.
Paul, Leer and Kropp go swimming in a French canal and discover three French women. Although there is a language barrier, they speak to the French women and begin to flirt and become friends with them. Paul soon discovers that he has received two weeks of leave but that after it is over he is to return to the front. He wonders how many of his friends will survive his absence.
He tries to visit one of the women from the canal to tell her but finds that she is not interested in hearing about it. He assumes that she would be more interested to hear about him going back to the front as it would be more exciting.
Paul returns to his hometown and finds that his mother has cancer and the people of his town are slowly starving from lack of food.
He feels odd and out of place in his parents home and cannot escape the feeling of strangeness. His mother asks him if it was “very bad out there” and Paul lies to her, feeling that he doesn’t have the words to describe what he has been through.
Paul begins wearing civilian clothes again and dealing with his father’s constant questioning about the war. Sometimes the sound of the cars screeching outside scare Paul and make him think he is being shelled. He tries to recapture his childhood but finds that he cannot and that being a soldier is all he knows now.
Paul learns that his old teacher, Kantorek, has been drafted into the war. One of Paul’s old classmates, Mittelstaedt, is now a training officer and in charge of Katorek. He tells Paul that he takes pleasure in humiliating Kanorek every chance he gets as all of the classmates still blame him for Joseph Behm’s death as well as many others.
Paul delivers the news of Kemmerich’s death to his mother and lies to her about him dying quickly and painlessly. On the last night of Paul’s leave, his mother sits with him. He realizes that she is in pain and wishes that he could stay and die with her. He tries to get her to return to her bed but she refuses as she is saddened that he is leaving again and fears she will never see him again.
Paul returns to the training camp. A prison for captured Russian soldiers is next to the camp. The prisoners are treated poorly and must dig through the German’s trash to find food. Paul looks at the prisoners and wonders how they can be the enemy as he feels that they look just like him. He doesn’t feel different from the prisoners and finds that their voices bring to mind cozy homes.
Men that Paul has never met have made it so he is to see the Russian’s as enemies. Because of these men, he is required to shoot and imprison the Russians. Paul sees this as ridiculous but decides that he must push this thought away if he wants to stay out of trouble. However, he does share his cigarettes with the prisoners Paul learns that his mother has been taken to the hospital and that his family is struggling to pay for the care she is receiving.
Later, Paul returns to the front and finds Kat, Muller, Tjaden and Kropp are still alive and well. In addition, the emperor of Germany, the kaiser, is coming to visit the troops. Because of the royal visit, the soldiers are given new uniforms and everything is cleaned in the dugouts.
However, when the kaiser arrives, Paul and his friends are disappointed by him and after his visit ends, their new uniforms are taken away.
Paul and his friends conclude that the war only exists because the kaiser wanted to get in the history books. Paul volunteers to crawl into enemy territory to gather information about the French troops. During his journey, a bombardment takes place and he must take cover in a shell hole.
An enemy soldier jumps into the shell hole with him and Paul stabs the man. Since Paul cannot leave the hole until the attack is over, he must wait beside the body. After some time, he realizes that the French soldier isn’t dead and bandages the man’s wounds.
Paul watches over the man as he dies. It is the first time he has killed someone in close combat. As he waits longer, Paul begins talking to the body and finds a picture of the man’s family in his wallet. He finds the man’s address and vows to send money to his family anonymously.
Once Paul is able to leave the shell hole, he returns to his camp and tells his friend’s about what has happened. His friends point out the snipers picking off enemy soldiers and point out that, unlike the snipers, Paul had no choice as it was kill or be killed.
Paul and his friends are sent to guard an abandoned village. They take the opportunity to sleep in the houses that have been left and eat the food leftover by the fleeing villagers. The men stay in the village for three weeks before they are moved and manage to bring a bed, two armchairs and a stray cat with them on the retreat.
While they are leaving the village, Kropp and Paul are wounded by a shell. Paul’s leg is broken and his arm is hurt but Kropp was more seriously wounded close to his knee. He admits that he will commit suicide if they amputate his leg as he and Paul are brought to the hospital.
On the way to the hospital, Kropp develops a fever and must be brought to the nearest Catholic hospital instead of the war hospital. Paul fakes a more dire injury so that he may be allowed to stay with Kropp. Kropp’s leg is soon amputated.
After this, he heals well but is more reserved and solemn than he was. Paul heals, too. He wonders if Kropp is going to carry out his idea of committing suicide. Paul is sent home to finish healing but must soon return to the war. This time it is even harder to leave his mother as she is weaker than before.
Detering soon deserts the army and returns home where he is found and tried as a deserter. The Company never hears of him again. Muller is shot point-blank in the stomach and his death throes last for half and hour. Paul then takes the boots that once belonged to Kemmerich.
The war continues on and begins to go badly for the Germans. The quality of the soldier’s rations worsens and they begin to get ill. The weapons that the German’s use become obsolete and useless. During the summer of 1918, Leer is shot and bleeds to death from his wound.
Rumors begin to circulate that the German’s will surrender. Kat is wounded and Paul cannot leave him to get help as he fears that Kat will die alone. Paul carries him through a shelling to a wound dressing station. At this point, Kat is the only surviving friend that Paul has left. When Paul reaches the station he discovers that Kat was hit in the head by shrapnel during the painstaking journey and is dead.
In the last chapter, Paul is the only living member of his classmates. The war continues, but the United States has joined the allies and Germany is not long for surrender. Paul feels that it seems likely that the German people will revolt against the kaiser after the war is over because of the torment they have been made to suffer.
Paul is given another two weeks of leave. He questions whether he should return home as he doesn’t know what he would do there. He worries that everyone he knew in his town is now gone and that his generation will have no survivors. Even the soldiers that survive the war will return home as shells of who they once were.
He hopes that something human inside of him has survived the years of war time but doesn’t know if it has.
In October of 1918, Paul is killed after years of avoiding death on the front. It is a strangely quiet day otherwise and the army report for the day only contains the phrase: “All quiet on the Western Front”.
Paul Baumer – The main character and narrator of the novel. Paul is a nineteen-year-old man who recently finished school and volunteered to join the army during the first World War. Paul suffers greatly as a soldier and begins to feel that he was duped into joining the army by his former teacher.
Paul is the foremost character for addressing the novel’s theme, the effect of war and PTSD on young men. Through Paul, we are shown a man who is forced to act a certain way as a soldier that contrasts against who he is as a person.
Paul’s inner thoughts and memories reveal him to be a sensitive, caring individual but the tasks of a more solid force him to be removed, brusque even unkind. This creates a duality within him that eventually makes him feel disconnected from his former life as a private citizen and like an animal.
Paul learns to hide and disconnect his emotions which cause him to feel as though he is not even human anymore. Unable to reconcile and end the war and his place in the world of peace, Paul is said to die in the end with a smile on his face, happy that he does not have to struggle anymore.
Stanislaus Katczinsky – A soldier in the Second Company and Paul’s best friend. Kat is one of the few soldiers whom Paul associates with that is not a former schoolmate. Kat is a forty-year-old man with a family. Kat is a good soldier with a similar outlook to Paul. He is a resourceful, creative man who is good at finding supplies when needed and surviving.
Kat provides a partner-in-crime to Paul as well as a good friend. At the end of the novel, Kat is wounded in battle and Paul must carry him to the wound dressing station over the pitted battlefield so that he will not die alone. It is a touching and tragic epigraph to their friendship.
Corporal Himmelstoss – The training sergeant initially in charge of the Second Company, Himmelstoss is sent to the front in punishment for going overboard in his torment of young recruits.
One of the central themes of the novel is the war bringing out the latent hunger for power and savagery that exists in some people. Himmelstoss represents this figure. Though he is said to have been a normal postmaster before the war he now exists as a violent, sociopathic “terror of Klosterberg”. He is the most hated and feared sergeant in the camps.
Many of Himmelstoss’s cruel and unusual tortures are detailed before he is properly introduced in the book so that the reader will see him as a villain. When Himmelstoss is brought into the narrative he is immediately subjected to the same terror and suffering as his former recruits and begins to see things through their eyes. Through this, Remarque shows that the terror of the front lines can turn even the most power hungry disciplinarian into a frightened soldier.
Erich Maria Remarque Biography
Erich Maria Remarque was a German-American novelist. Born in Osnabruck, Germany in June of 1898, Erich was educated at the University of Munster. Erich began writing poetry and essays at the age of 16. When he was eighteen, Erich Maria was drafted into the army so he could fight in War.
He fought on the Western front between Torhout and Houthulst in Germany until he was wounded and sent to the hospital to recuperate where he spent the rest of the war. After the war, Remarque worked as a school teacher for a while before taking up such jobs as a librarian, a journalist, and an editor.
In 1920, his first novel, “The Dream Room” was published under the name Erich Remark. Remarque published his second book “Station at the Horizon” in 1927 under the same name, but changed the spelling of his family name back to an older version for the publication of his hit novel “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Thus, Remark became Remarque. Erich also changed his middle name to Maria in honor of his mother.
In “All Quiet on the Western Front”, Remarque used his knowledge and memories of World War I to write a moving novel about a young soldier serving in the war. The book was a success and Remarque followed it with “The Road Back” in 1931.
After the publication of his forth novel, Remarque moved to Porto Ronco, Switzerland. During the 1930’s the Nazi’s quickly rose to power in Germany. Among the many books they burned publicly were Remarque’s works. The Nazi’s decried Remarque as a traitor and a fake and in 1938, Remarque’s German citizenship was taken away by the party. Remarque left Switzerland for the United States and became a naturalized citizen but moved back to Switzerland in 1948 and began writing again.
Remarque first married in 1925 to the actress Lise Jutta Zambona. They couple divorced in 1930 but later remarried in order to avoid Zambona being made to return to Germany during the war. They divorced again after fleeing to the United States.
In 1958, Remarque married again. This time to the actress Paulette Goddard. The couple stayed together until Remarque’s death on September 25th, 1970. At the age of 72, Remarque had an aneurysm which brought on a full heart collapse. He is interred in Ronco, Ticino, Switzerland next to his wife who died 20 years later in 1990.