From Chapter 2 in All Quiet on the Western Front describe some of Himmelstoss's methods for showing his power over Paul and his friends.  In describing these harsh methods, what does Paul mean...

From Chapter 2 in All Quiet on the Western Front describe some of Himmelstoss's methods for showing his power over Paul and his friends.  In describing these harsh methods, what does Paul mean by ''We became hard, suspicious, pitiless, vicious, tough- and that was good''?  How does Remarque create sympathy for Kemmerich, while assessing Paul's manner in dealing with the death of his friend?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 2, Paul remarks that "we stood on the threshold of life."  There is a level of excitement and exuberance that Paul and the recruits feel about the war.  It is for this reason that Himmelstoss enforces a level of structure and order on the recruits in the regimen.  Paul indicates that the structure was needed because of the Romantic condition regarding war that the soldiers possessed: "We were still crammed full of vague  ideas which gave to life, and to the war also an ideal and almost romantic character."  Himmelstoss stresses order and repetition, essential to the characteristics of war.  One such example is when Paul is forced to make and remake Himmelstoss's bed over a dozen times to emphasize the need to do things repeatedly in a correct and technical manner.  Paul was commanded to clean until "my hands [were] chafed and bleeding."  Running stairs for uniform violations is another example of the strict level of discipline Himmelstoss enforced on the young soldiers like Paul.  

In describing how such treatment was "good," Paul seeks to illuminate how the "toughness" that a soldier receives in his training can assist him on the battlefield.  Paul evokes the idea that there is a "softness" in character that the young soldier possesses which can prove to be fatal on the battlefield.  In chapter 6, Paul describes how ignorant the young recruits are and how they "cannot take" the horrors they see in war.  Paul remarks that they are sensitive and this is reminiscent of how Himmelstoss's training seeks to fortify the soldiers, making them prepared for the challenges they will experience on the battlefield, something that Paul perceives as "good."

Remarque creates sympathy for Kemmerich.  The description of Kemmerich's death is a brutal one. Reflective of the horror of war, one cannot help but feel bad for him:  

His lips have fallen away, his mouth has  become larger, his teeth stick out and look as though they were made of chalk. The flesh melts,  the forehead bulges more prominently, the cheekbones protrude. The skeleton is working itself  through. The eyes are already sunken in. In a couple of hours it will be over.

The slow withering of the body is a brutal condition.  It is one that makes the reader feel helpless as they watch death take over the young nineteen year old.  This same sympathy is experienced when Paul describes his friend, a pair that "grew up together."  In addition, Kemmerich's final request to Paul is emotionally taxing, helping to create a sense of sympathy for the reader:  "If you find my watch, send it home--"  Remarque creates sympathy by showing these soldiers as not ones of fortune or zealots, but young boys who are simply unable to deal with the reality of the world around them.  

Paul's reaction to his friend's death is a realistic one.  Paul mourns for his friend, thinking about "girls, of flowery meadows, of white clouds," and conditions that are fundamentally reminiscent of his life before the war.  Yet, at the same time, Remarque shows Paul as being overwhelmed by the condition of death and suffering that envelops him: "I become faint, all at once I cannot do any more. I won't revile any more, it is senseless, I could drop down and never rise up again."  In depicting Paul's reaction in this manner, Remarque adds realism to Paul's experience of mourning for his friend and all of those who were cut down prematurely by the reality of war.

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