Summary (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
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 entire section is 274 words.)
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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...
(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...
(The entire section is 1347 words.)
Part I Summary
Part I—Behind the Lines
All Quiet on the Western Front is the story of a young German foot soldier, Paul Baumer, during the waning days of the First World War. Since Paul narrates his story—which consists of a series of short episodes—in the first person and in present tense, the novel has the feel of a diary, with entries on everyday life interspersed with horrifying battle episodes.
We find that Paul joined the army with his classmates Muller, Kropp, and Leer at the urging of their schoolmaster. In the first section, Paul also introduces his friends Tjaden, Westhus, and Katczinski, called Kat. At forty, Kat is the oldest of the soldiers and is skilled in the practicalities of life. As the book opens, the soldiers concern themselves with food, cigarettes and thoughts of home.
While resting, Baumer and his friends decide to visit Kemmerich, a wounded comrade, at the field hospital. They discover that he has had his leg amputated and that he is dying. Although they are concerned with Kemmerich's pain, they are more concerned with what will become of his boots. Muller, in particular, covets the soft leather. Paul explains to the reader that Muller would go to any lengths to save a comrade's life; but it is clear that Kemmerich will die and "good boots are scarce."
Frequently during the rest period, Paul's thoughts turn back to his days at school and to the lofty, philosophical ideals he and his classmates learned....
(The entire section is 448 words.)
Part II Summary
Part II—On Leave
After the battle, Paul receives leave to visit home. His friends Kropp and Kat see him off, and Paul starts his journey. As he travels by train, he looks at the landscape, at once so normal and, at the same time, so changed.
At home, he finds his sister cooking and his mother ill with cancer. For the first time, Paul dissolves into tears as his emotions overwhelm him. Even when he recovers and is able to speak, he finds that he is unable to answer his family's questions about his experiences at the front.
Throughout his leave, Paul finds himself unable to get along with his family and friends. His father takes him to a pub and urges Paul to share detailed descriptions of the fighting with the older men there. Paul cannot do this. In addition, the noises of everyday life startle and frighten him. When he visits his old room at home, he feels a gulf open between himself and the person he was before the leave.
In the final scene of his leave, Paul bids farewell to his mother. Both know they will never see each other again. Later the same night, as Paul lies in his bed, he knows he should never have come home. "Out there I was indifferent and often hopeless," he thinks, knowing he will never be so again. "I was a soldier, and now I am nothing but an agony for myself, for my mother, for everything that is comfortless and without an end."
(The entire section is 257 words.)
Part III Summary
Part III—The Return to the Front
After Paul's return to the front, he feels himself more strongly attached to his friends than ever. They alone can understand what he has endured. Consequently, he volunteers to go on a patrol with them. Separated from the others in the dark, Paul finds himself suddenly paralyzed with fear as another battle begins. He throws himself into a shell crater for protection. Almost immediately, a French soldier jumps in on top of him. Paul stabs the Frenchman and then spends the rest of the night and the whole next day watching him die slowly and in great pain. It is the first time Paul has killed with his hands, and the man's dying is excruciating for Paul to witness. He tries to help his victim, but to no avail. Remorse fills Paul and he thinks of the man's wife and life at home. Eventually, Kropp and Kat find Paul and rescue him.
The men are next assigned to guard a deserted town where they loot houses and have a grand feast. However, as they leave the village, both Kropp and Paul are wounded.
In the subsequent weeks in the hospital, Kropp's leg is amputated and Paul's wounds heal. Eventually, Kropp is sent home, and Paul returns to the front. It is now 1918, and the days blend together in bombardment, death, and defeat. The German troops, tired and hungry, lose ground daily to the fresh American troops. Paul and Kat are the last two alive of the original group; and then the day comes when Kat is wounded....
(The entire section is 289 words.)
Part IV Summary
It is now the autumn of 1918. The war is winding down and Paul, recovering from a gas attack, knows that the armistice will come soon and that he will go home. He reflects on what it means to go home, not only for himself, but for all of those of his generation:
Had we returned home in 1916, out of the suffering and the strength of our experience we might have unleashed a storm. Now if we go back we will be weary, broken, burnt out, rootless, and without hope. We will not be able to find our way any more.
And men will not understand us—for the generation that grew up before us, though it has passed these years with us already had a home and a calling, now it will return to its old occupations, and the war will be forgotten—and the generation that has grown up after us will be strange to us and push us aside. We will be superfluous even to ourselves, we will grow older, a few will adapt themselves, some others will merely submit, and most will be bewildered—the years will pass by and in the end we shall fall into ruin...
I am very quiet. Let the months and years come, they can take nothing from me, they can take nothing more. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear.
These are Paul's last thoughts. The book shifts abruptly and the next page opens with a new narrator who takes over the story for the final two...
(The entire section is 312 words.)
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 volunteered together and are serving together. They are part of a company of soldiers that has been on the front line for the past fourteen days and has moved back after suffering heavy casualties from English forces. There is plenty of food and tobacco for them, not because they are provisioned well but because they lost so many men in battle.
Also in line for their food are their friends: Tjaden, a thin boy and the biggest eater; Haie Westhus, also nineteen, with huge hands; Detering, a married farmer who longs for his home and wife; and Stanislaus Katczinsky, the “shrewd, cunning” forty-year-old leader of the group. As the men stand in line, the cook (Ginger) is dismayed that he has so much food for so few soldiers; it is against military policy to give extra rations. He finally gives in and serves them all nearly twice what they usually receive.
It is a good day because they are full, the mail has arrived, they have extra tobacco, and they are able to relax comfortably on the boxes with seats and handles that serve as toilets. No longer reticent about such bodily functions being so public, the men are well acquainted with their stomachs and intestines. As they sit on their makeshift toilets, they smoke and read and share whatever gossip is to be had in the beautiful environment that surrounds them. They play a card game and reminisce, joking about their former schoolmaster, Kantorek. He is a diminutive man who pressured the boys in their class to volunteer; he was quick to ask others to sacrifice when it cost him nothing. Even parents were insistent that their boys join the fighting, although they had no idea of the harsh realities their sons would encounter. As soldiers who have experienced...
(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 enlistees was dispersed, and he had only three classmates with him under the command of Corporal Himmelstoss.
A former postman, Himmelstoss is a rigid man, strict in his discipline. He senses defiance in some of this group and is determined to work it out of them. Paul has performed tasks multiple times only to have Himmelstoss find fault and have him start again. He and the other defiant ones have been punished and forced to endure unbearable tasks in his attempt to break them. In one morning Paul had to remake the corporal’s bed fourteen times because Himmelstoss found some fault with it, and he has cleaned the Corporals’ Mess with a toothbrush. Nothing is ever good enough.
One day Paul and Kropp were carrying a full bucket from the latrine and Himmelstoss taunted them once again. In response, they tripped and the contents soiled the Corporal’s pants. Himmelstoss threatened the “clink,” but a fed-up Kropp threatened a formal inquiry. A standoff ensued, and the men won. In exchange, though, the men grew “hard, suspicious, pitiless, vicious, tough.” In the end, this was the preparation they needed to survive in the trenches, for they learned how to rely on each other.
Paul goes to visit Franz. Amazingly he is still alive, but the end is near. Although Paul tries to be encouraging about Franz’s future, neither of them is fooled. Finally Franz offers Paul his boots, a sign that he understands he will never have an opportunity to wear them. The orderlies will not get the boots but they continually walk by the bed, waiting for Franz to die so they can have the bed. There is no consoling Franz, so Paul just sits and waits. Soon Franz is struggling just to breathe, and Paul...
(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 and there is no food to be found, Kat finds bread and horsemeat. As he cooks it, he adds salt and fat, two other mysterious acquisitions. Kat also knows how to cook what he scrounges. Whatever the need is, Kat finds it. It is his gift and the men appreciate it.
The men are relaxing away from the fighting after having to do a saluting drill for an hour because one of them did not salute an officer well enough. They can see an air fight raging above them and place bets on who will win. Kat is of the opinion that if all men in the military were paid the same—if there were no officers—the war would be over in a day. Kropp believes the war should end with the war ministers and generals fighting to the death; the winning group would claim victory. They reminisce about their days of training, the sounds and the smells and the drills. A German plane is shot down in a blaze of fire, and Kropp loses the bet.
Himmelstoss is a power-hungry man, and the men discuss how it happens that an officer’s uniform turns a mere postman into a man obsessed with power. Kat reflects that the organization of the military demands there must always be a command structure in which one man has more power than the next. When a man uses that power in the military, even if other men are demeaned or humiliated, he is praised. In the civilian world, such things are not tolerated. And “the more insignificant a man has been in civil life the worse it takes him.” The men are amazed that soldiers keep fighting knowing there will certainly be more abuse. During battle, however, there is no drilling; as soon as the fighting is over, there is more drilling and more mistreatment, for a soldier must never be idle.
(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 man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier.” On their way to the front, they are soldiers enjoying relative camaraderie; in the battle zone, they are men acting on animal instinct.
They climb out of the trucks when they reach the woods, and they gather either iron stakes or rolls of wire and start walking with their awkward burdens. Even the glow of lit cigarettes must be extinguished as they reach the front line. The bombardment continues. After several hours of planting stakes and unrolling wire, their task is done. Since the trucks are not due back for several hours, the men try to sleep. Paul is startled in his sleep and sits up quickly. Kat is there and awake, and others come to join them as a heavy barrage of fire explodes around them. A new recruit buries himself in Paul’s chest, and Paul does his best to protect him. There is a crying that can be heard during the explosions and continues even after the noise stops. It is the crying of wounded horses, and it is growing unbearable for the men. Nothing can be done until the human casualties have been taken care of, but once they are, several single shots ring out in the near-dark. Some horses are running in their panic, and one soldier takes a knee and shoots. The pitiful crying stops.
The group heads through a cemetery back toward the trucks and the explosions begin again, closer this time. Several trees in the nearby woods “sail up and then crash to pieces.” The men duck for cover as the earth appears to erupt with each explosion. A sliver of metal tears Paul’s sleeve off his arm; another slides across his helmet. Paul slithers on the ground, even under the body of a dead soldier, trying to reach a shell hole and further...
(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 retribution on Himmelstoss. Detering simply wants to go back to his farm.
Himmelstoss arrives, takes one hesitant step when he sees this group ahead of him, then moves toward them with confidence. No one reacts to his presence. He is no longer the direct authority to whom they answer, and their attitudes reflect their disdain for their former taskmaster. Himmelstoss has been warned that some soldiers would like to put a bullet in his back, and not just men in this group. Tjaden insults him by calling him a “dirty hound,” and the reaction is immediate. Tjaden refuses to stand and salute Himmelstoss as his superior officer, and Himmelstoss marches off, threatening Tjaden with a court martial.
Again the conversation turns to post-war plans. Kropp gets them all thinking about all the rather pointless things they once studied, things that now seem far away from their realities. They did not finish their schooling before they volunteered, so if they ever want to go to university they must go back and finish school—something which is virtually impossible given where they are and what they have seen and experienced. When they think of jobs, those who have never had one find the prospect hard to consider after being in the military. They are truly at a loss when they consider what they will do once the war is over and their “real” lives begin: “Two years of shells and bombs—a man won’t peel that off as easy as a sock.” They decide their entire generation will wrestle with this issue. As Albert Kropp says, “The war has ruined us for everything.” They are no longer youth; instead, they have seen too much and just want to run and hide. At the time in their lives when they should have been in...
(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.
Days pass, and the men are weary and wary as observation balloons hover above them. There is a gigantic explosion and several of the dugouts are buried. Digging them back out helps pass the time, but the damage is so extensive that provisions can no longer be brought to them. The waiting is interminable, and they barely keep from attacking each other when a horde of rats invades their dugouts. One afternoon one of the recruits goes berserk. He simply wants to get out, no matter that doing so would surely get him killed. The more experienced men know they must give him a beating to shake him from this temporary insanity. That night, the attack begins.
The storm troopers are on the move, and ammunition is flying everywhere. Kropp and Haie are throwing hand grenades to deter their progress, and the French troops suffer heavy losses before they reach the trenches. Paul and his unit retreat, detonating bombs in their wake. They are not so much fighting as simply trying to stay alive. The trenches are nearly nonexistent, but the enemy has also suffered heavy casualties. By noon they have retreated to another trench and begin to attack the oncoming troops:
We have lost all feeling for one another. We can hardly control ourselves when our glance lights on the form of some other man. We are insensible, dead men, who through some trick, some dreadful magic, are still able to run and kill.
As they run in pursuit of a retreating enemy, they suddenly find themselves in the enemy’s camp. They have the momentum and the enemy is forced to leave. Before heading back to their home base, Paul and the others dive into the trenches and gather whatever they can find. Safe in...
(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 women. One evening while some of the men are swimming, three women stroll along the edge of the water. There is not much actual conversation because of the language barrier, but the men agree to meet the women at a house that evening although there are guards posted on the bridge and crossing into enemy territory is forbidden. They promise to bring what food they can, then they head back to their barracks in anticipation of their night with these women. Unfortunately there are four men and only three women, so they ply Tjaden with rum in the hope of knocking him out for the night. They pack some bread, cigarettes, and liver sausage as gifts for the ladies; place the gifts in their boots (which they hold over their heads); and swim across the canal naked.
When they arrive, the women laugh at them and toss them some clothing. Paul tries to forget about everything in the arms of the petite brunette speaking French words into his ear. As the three men leave, they see Tjaden sneaking, naked, up to the same door they just left.
Paul has been given fourteen days’ leave plus travel time, then he is to report to a training camp. He will be gone for six weeks. Although he is glad that he is not going back to the front right away, he wonders if he will ever again see his friends. Paul takes a long series of trains before he sees the landscape near his home. Although he recognizes everything, nothing is familiar to him. As he walks through town he is flooded with memories of his youth.
The first person he sees at home is his older sister, who calls to his mother that her son is home. Paul is paralyzed with emotion and starts to cry. He composes himself before he goes to his mother’s room. She...
(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 sausage is enough to buy a pair of good Russian boots.
Paul often has guard duty and is dismayed at how apathetic and defeated the prisoners appear to be. He reflects that one stroke of a pen, one command, or one document might change their relationship from enemy to friend. The very anonymity of these men makes them less of an enemy to him than a teacher would be to a student or an officer would be to a recruit. These thoughts disturb him. He breaks his cigarettes in half and distributes them to the Russians, and he feels better for a while. There is a funeral nearly every day, and there is a violinist who plays mournful tunes. It makes him sad.
Before he leaves for the front, Paul’s father and sister come to visit him; Paul feels awkward and uncomfortable. They tell him they are now certain his mother’s illness is cancer. She is in the hospital waiting for an operation, though they have not heard of any cancer being cured. She is in the cheapest ward of the hospital in order to save money. His mother has been sickly throughout her life, and the expenses have been crippling for Paul’s father. The coming operation is frightening because of the cost, but his father will work himself nearly sick to make some extra money. Before they board the train, they give Paul some jam and potato cakes his mother made. He puts jam on a few of the cakes and eats them, but then he grows sad and decides to give them to the prisoners. Before doing so, Paul realizes what it must have cost his sick mother to make the cakes for him. He only gives two to the Russians.
(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 them. The men would rather be fighting than parading. When the Kaiser arrives, the men are disappointed; they expected a more powerful and commanding presence in an emperor. Once he leaves, Paul and his friends grow philosophical about how a small number of men engaged the world in this war. Also, because every group of soldiers is defending their own homeland, how is one to know “who is in the right?” It is the leaders who want war, not the people, so “there must be some people to whom the war is useful.” Their talking does not make things better, and they have to exchange their new uniforms for their old, tattered ones.
They do not go to Russia, but they do head back to the front line. Trench guns have blasted men right out of their clothes, and the bits and pieces of men and uniforms hang from trees all around them. Paul and his friends are sent to survey the strength of the enemy. A shell has landed next to Paul; he did not hear it coming and he is terrified it will be the last thing he sees. He is immovable in his fear, but he finally convinces himself to rejoin his comrades. For their sake he must move on; he finds them and is reassured by their presence. He is still afraid, but he is no longer paralyzed by it.
Unfortunately, Paul has lost his sense of direction and is crawling aimlessly through the dark when he hears a barrage of fire. He slips into a shell hole for shelter and wonders what he would do if someone else jumped into the hole with him. Paul pulls out his dagger, prepared for anything. The night is coming to a close and Paul decides to strike out for home; just as he does, a body falls on top of him. In reaction, Paul stabs mercilessly, and the man moans unbearably. Paul...
(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 are called back to their regiment, and they load the trucks with all sorts of luxuries from the village, including two big, red armchairs.
Several days later they are to evacuate a village. As they approach their destination, the soldiers see a stream of citizens silently trudging away from their homes hauling everything they can possibly manage. Suddenly they are attacked and Albert Kropp is hit in the knee. Paul drags him to safety and binds his wounds; Kropp then bandages wounds on Paul’s arm and leg. They crawl until they are picked up by an ambulance full of other wounded soldiers. Kropp has decided that if he loses his leg he will take his own life. When it is his turn to be patched up, Paul decides he will not take any chloroform because military surgeons are too quick to amputate. The doctor finds the segment of shell and sets Paul’s leg, telling him he will be heading home the next day. Paul finds Kropp and bribes the sergeant-major to put them together on the hospital train in the morning. Kropp is loaded into a bottom bunk, and Paul is supposed to get into the bed on top. He is hesitant when he sees the crisp, pristine white bedding, for he knows he is filthy and full of lice. One of the Red Cross nurses assures him lice need a nice bed now and then, too, and Paul hesitates no longer.
The train leaves an hour later. When it is dark, Paul wakes and Kropp is restless. When Paul tries to climb down from his bed to head for the latrine, he finds nothing on which to place his foot and falls. One of the nurses comes in and comforts him sweetly. She is young and Paul is having difficulty telling her he needs to relieve himself. Once she understands, she brings him a bottle.
(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 around Paul. One day Detering, a fellow soldier, came home with several branches of cherry blossoms and started packing his belongings—including the branches. Paul talked with him and asked what he was planning, and Detering seemed to know he was being scrutinized by his comrades and acted normal for a day or so. The next day he was gone. The regiment heard he had been caught heading back to Germany and was court-martialed. They should have known Detering was just homesick and had a momentary lapse in judgment, but they do not. Another soldier, Berger, jumped out of the safety of their trenches to save a messenger dog and got shot and wounded, as did the man who tried to save him. There is no way to counteract such frontline madness; the best anyone can do is “fling the man to the ground and hold him fast.”
Müller takes a shot to the stomach at close range and dies. His wallet and his boots, the same boots Kemmerich gave away in his dying moments, go to Paul. If Paul no longer needs the boots, Tjaden knows they will be his. The enemy, French and American troops, are fed and armed too well, and the Germans are losing this war. Their food does not fill them, though those who produce the food are getting rich. They do not have enough ammunition and their weapons are no longer reliable. The new recruits are weaker, both physically and mentally, than they have been. The soldiers see no way this is ever going to end. Although enemy tanks were laughable at first, they are now agents of death:
Shells, gas clouds, and flotillas of tanks—shattering, corroding, death. Dysentery, influenza, typhus—scalding, choking, death. Trenches, hospitals, the common grave—there are no other...
(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 a storm.” Instead, they will return to their former lives as tired, broken, empty, and hopeless men; they will no longer be able to be productive or creative citizens. Even worse, no one will comprehend their situation. The generation ahead of them lived through the war, it is true; however, they have established lives and professions to which they will return. They will refocus and be okay. They will be able to forget the war. For the younger generation there will be no patience or understanding for former soldiers such as him; they will be cast aside and made irrelevant. Some may be able to adapt, but most will not.
Perhaps, Paul thinks, he is simply depressed and being pessimistic because he feels alone and aimless. Surely the beauty of the trees and the leaves that once inspired him can inspire him still. The books that prompted him to think of complex things and yearn for the unknown might prompt him still. Surely he will still be capable of dreaming and thinking and hoping.
The talk of peace is encouraging, and Paul rises. He faces his future with strength. There is nothing more to be taken from him, so there is nothing left to fear. He will not be afraid. He is aware that he still has the one thing that matters—life. He has life, and it is in his mind as well as in his body. He thinks he can control it, though he is not certain. If there is life in him, Paul believes it will find a way to express itself even if he would not have it so.
Paul dies on an October day in 1918, a day that was so uneventful on all fronts that the army report for the day simply contained one sentence: “All quiet on the Western Front.” He has fallen forward and lies on the earth as though he were...
(The entire section is 480 words.)