The rapid popular success of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel after it appeared in January, 1929, attracted special attention from the political parties vying for ascendancy in Germany’s Weimar Republic. Reviews by Adolf Hitler’s National Socialists ridiculed the novel as unauthentic, the work of an imaginative Jew intent on pulling down the ideal of heroism. German Marxists judged Remarque as ideologically noncommittal and insufficiently critical of the war it depicted. In Great Britain and Australia, criticism of All Quiet on the Western Front followed similar ideological lines.
In the United States Little, Brown published a version of All Quiet on the Western Front from which passages mentioning latrines and a scene of sexual encounter in a hospital were removed. This edition, which also softened the book’s raw language, was a Book-of-the-Month Club choice in 1929. The first unexpurgated American edition of the novel did not appear until 1975.
In 1930 an American film company, Universal Pictures, adapted All Quiet on the Western Front to the screen; both the film and its director, Lewis Milestone, won Academy Awards. When the film opened in Berlin, Germany, Joseph Goebbels led a group of Hitler Youth in a violent demonstration. Afterward the Weimar government found reasons to banish the film from Germany on aesthetic grounds. Three years later, after Hitler took power, the National Socialist government banned the novel from the country as well.
In a silent film version that was adapted for French-speaking audiences, scenes depicting the killing of a French soldier and a gathering of German soldiers and French women were removed. When the film was rereleased in the United States in 1938, an anti-Nazi prologue was added.
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
All Quiet on the Western Front earned Remarque international popularity and established his writing career on firm financial and literary foundations. By the time of his death in 1970, perhaps fifty million copies of the novel had been sold and it had been translated into fifty-five languages. In the 1990’s, it was still widely regarded by many readers and critics as the greatest war novel of the twentieth century. Others ranked it with several very different, but esteemed, German war novels, such as Ernst Jünger’s In Stahlgewittern (1920; Storm of Steel, 1975), Fritz von Unruh’s Der Opfergang (1919; Way of Sacrifice, 1928), and Ludwig Renn’s Krieg (1928; War, 1928).
All Quiet on the Western Front was Remarque’s therapy for the depression and sense of desperation that had plagued him since World War I. It is an unconventional work in several ways. It is episodic, almost documentary or diary-like in nature, and it lacks a consistent plot. The narrator and principal character, Paul Baumer, is a young German soldier who serves on the Western Front. A second narrator is introduced only at the end to announce Baumer’s death.
Baumer’s narration, Remarque confirmed later in an interview, provides a worm’s-eye view of war—the view of one common soldier and his comrades’ physical and psychological trials imposed by their horrific experiences. It is not a literal work. Scenes Baumer describes are not found in factual guides to...
(The entire section is 629 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Paul Bäumer is a young enlisted soldier. His classmates in school had been cajoled into joining the service by a teacher. Classmate Josef Behm, who had resisted enlistment, ironically is the first to die. For Bäumer, resources in the field are more important than people. With his comrades, he has access to plentiful food because those soldiers for whom the food was meant are now either in the hospital, wounded in combat, or in mass graves. The situation is worth rejoicing over.
World War I is characterized by trench warfare. Soldiers hold their own lines while periodically attempting to take the trenches of the other side or to avoid having their own trenches taken. Franz Kemmerich dies of gangrene after his leg is removed. His soft boots go to Müller, who had eyed them even before Kemmerich died. Müller is shot in the belly by a tracer bullet, and his boots go to Bäumer, who, in turn, promises them to Tjaden if he dies before him. The boots matter, and the death of individuals does not.
Kantorek, the comrades’ former literature teacher and now their comrade, refers to Bäumer’s generation as the iron youth; reality consists of death and suffering. Schoolbooks report events at a political level, where emperors need to make a name for themselves by an impressive war or two and where the ideals of a country must seek fulfillment. Reality, on the other hand, dehumanizes and trivializes, and turns humans into hospital and medical classifications: belly-shot cases; spinal injuries; head shots; amputees; jaw-shot cases; gas diseases; shots into noses, ears, and necks; blindness injuries; lung shots; hip injuries; joint shots; kidney hits; testicle shots; belly hits; dripping puss; open intestines; and the bomb craters within the psyches of soldiers.
Bäumer is on furlough, and an acquaintance points out to him that he fails to see the larger connections. The acquaintance advises Bäumer to stop the trench warfare, to kick out the fellows on the other side, and to get this thing over with. Bäumer’s mother’s concern is with the sufficient supply of food to the soldiers. His father wants to hear heroic tales. These requests all lead to Bäumer’s alienation from life at home. He wonders whether he should tell the folks back home about finding gassed enemy soldiers in their trenches, blue-faced and poses betraying how they looked before the gas extinguished their lives. Home front and war front present such stark contrasts that Bäumer cannot integrate them into one experience. As the war’s madness increases in reality, home fades into alienation for Bäumer.
An older comrade, Detering, experiences this cognitive dissonance differently. Hearing that cherries are ripe, this farmer simply leaves the battlefield. The reality of home wins over the reality of battle. He is not deceptive, for he does not escape to another country; he simply attempts to go to his home in Germany. He runs into military police and—because judges at courts-martial do not grasp such cognitive dissonances—will suffer execution, in all probability.
Another key experience is the enemy. After his furlough, Bäumer spends some time guarding Russian POWs. He reflects on this experience, thinking how someone’s order had made the Russians his enemies; another...
(The entire section is 1347 words.)
Part I Summary
Part II Summary
Part III Summary
Chapter 1 Summary
This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will simply try to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.
Nineteen-year-old Paul Baümer is the narrator of this story, and he is in the army with three of his classmates, who are also nineteen. Albert Kropp is the “clearest thinker” among them and a lance-corporal; Müller is still thinking about school and physics formulas; Leer has a full beard and an eye for the ladies. They...
(The entire section is 660 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Paul’s former world—the world of schoolbooks, thinking, and being creative—is disconnected from his present world. The older men have established lives with which they can reconnect once the war is over; the young men, though, have nothing but family and a few former passions with which to connect once they return to civilian life. They had not “taken root,” so they have nothing that anchors them: “We have become a wasteland.” They enlisted with romantic notions about serving and fighting for their country; they learned that the formalities of the military are far more important than they should be. Shining boots and marching in step and standing at attention are all that matter. Paul’s class of twenty volunteer...
(The entire section is 490 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Paul’s regiment gets reinforcements. The new group of soldiers is settling in after receiving their gas masks and coffee. Many of them are young; Paul and his group are practically veterans compared to them. The new soldiers have been eating poorly and are hungry. They are overjoyed at the prospect of the beef and beans Katczinsky has bartered from Ginger (for three pieces of parachute silk) and stashed away for his own bartering. Next time the recruits will trade him something for a portion of the food.
Katczinsky (Kat) is an intuitive man who is invaluable to the men around him. When they find themselves in a warehouse with wire netting attached to wood beams as their beds, Kat finds them straw. When they are hungry...
(The entire section is 619 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
The unit goes closer to the battle for “wiring fatigue.” They are packed into military trucks, lurching in the dark toward the front lines, though they will not actually be engaging in the battle. As a flock of geese flies overhead in the dark, Paul and Katczinsky exchange glances. They will be having goose for dinner tonight. The new recruits are visibly nervous, but the others show no nerves. As the ammunition lands, Kat explains how to tell what it is. The English start firing, some of it near them. They change from being men on a mission to being men on the alert. They are tensed and ready, all senses attuned to their surroundings. There is a basic instinct for self-preservation that causes men to drop to the dirt: “To no...
(The entire section is 788 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
The soldiers are infested with lice and kill them by picking them off their clothes and sizzling them to death over a candle. It is a mindless task, and the men are preoccupied with the latest news. The rumor is true: Himmelstoss has arrived. They ponder what they will say to their former nemesis, and then talk to turns to the future. The idea of the war being over is almost too much to comprehend, but Katczinsky knows he will go home to his wife and children. Haie may, inexplicably to the others, stay in the army; he claims that digging trenches is better than digging peat. If there is no war, the army will at least provide him a decent living with free time in town in the evenings. Tjaden wants only to spend his time getting...
(The entire section is 635 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
It is summer, and Paul’s unit goes back to the battlefront several days earlier than planned. On the way, they see more than a hundred freshly made coffins stacked and waiting. The men joke, but they know for whom the coffins have been made. The English have fortified their position; however, their own artillery is so worn out that many of their own shells are landing in their trenches. Two men were injured by this friendly fire. The soldiers are discouraged and understand that they depend on chance for their continued survival. Huge, feasting rats have taken over the trenches, and the men kill them as best they can. Their rations of rum and Edamer cheese are delicious but signal something ominous ahead of them.
(The entire section is 682 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
The Second Company needs more than a hundred new soldiers to replace those they lost. The group is relaxing, and even Himmelstoss tries to join the camaraderie. Paul and most of the others are willing to give him grace because he brought Haie to them after he was wounded. Tjaden is still not friendly until Himmelstoss takes over the cook’s duty and gives the men fine food and gifts. They have rest and plenty of food, the two things every soldier needs to be content. The experiences of the battlefield do not go away; however, they cannot afford to dwell on them. It seems as if the war is not on their minds at all, but in fact it never goes away.
They are staying in houses near a canal—on the other side of which are...
(The entire section is 1021 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Paul is back at the camp where he and his classmates were prepared by Himmelstoss and others for the realities of war. It is not the same and he knows virtually no one. When he is not involved in drills, Paul enjoys the beauty of the scenery and relaxes.
Next to the training camp, separated by a wire fence, is a Russian prison camp. They are in even worse shape than the Germans are. They pick through the miserable leftovers in the garbage tins along the fence. While Paul and his fellow soldiers feel deprived, these prisoners are suffering the crippling effects of deprivation. These Russians are always looking for a trade, and they do have good boots to barter. Several loaves of army bread or perhaps one loaf and a small...
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
When Paul returns to join his battalion, he is given provisions and instructions on how to find his unit. They are now a regiment that is sent to “wherever it is hottest.” Losses have been heavy, he hears, and no one has news for him of Katczinsky or Albert Kropp. Paul eventually finds the command center and waits for his group to join him; they are expected in two days. When the weary and dispirited troops arrive, Paul pushes through them looking for his friends. He finds Kat, Kropp, Müller, and Tjaden and settles in next to them. He shares his potato cakes and jam; they tell him they may be heading to Russia to fight.
They spend days polishing and being inspected; the rumor is that the Kaiser is coming to review...
(The entire section is 872 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Paul and seven others are assigned to guard an abandoned village near a supply dump. They make the most of this opportunity and create “an idyll of eating and sleeping.” The village has been shelled regularly, but there is plenty for these deprived soldiers to scavenge. They find mattresses, bedding, eggs, butter, and two young pigs. One of the houses has everything a cook would need, and several of the men scour nearby fields for fresh vegetables. Cooking begins, but the smoke is visible to the observation balloons. They are now a target, so they grab the food and head for their dugout shelter. Their meal goes on as planned. For the next two weeks life is easy and the men take advantage of their access to supplies. Soon they...
(The entire section is 972 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Time passes and the only change, in addition to the seasons, is the move from the front to waiting to return to the front. What used to be is no more for either the soldiers or for the civilians. What used to matter, things like education and breeding, no longer matter. “Now we are all melted down," says the narrator, "and all bear the same stamp.”
Energy must be conserved, so the only important things are those necessary to sustain and maintain life. Everything else is dormant, and all is well until there is a yearning for something more. Those are the moments when the soldiers are reminded that they are more than animals and that the hard shell of superficiality is not real. Things are starting to fall apart...
(The entire section is 638 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Another summer is gone and another autumn has arrived. Not many who fought from the beginning, the old ones, are left; Paul is the only one of his seven classmates to survive. All around him there are rumors of peace and treaties, but there have been such rumors before. Peace must come after such rumors or there will be consequences. If the war does not end soon, Paul believes there will be a revolution.
Paul is relaxing while on two weeks of rest because he swallowed a little gas. He hungers for many things—is greedy for home and life and freedom—but has no goals for his future. He reflects that if the war had ended two years earlier, the soldiers may have had a chance to be something; they might have “unleashed...
(The entire section is 480 words.)