What does the graveyard scene say about the value of human life in All Quiet on the Western Front?This question is in All Quiet of the Western Front, Chapter 4.

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dymatsuoka | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In the graveyard scene, human life before and after death are juxtaposed, and, with chilling clarity, it is shown that there is very little distance between the two.

Paul's regiment is caught in a firefight, and out on the fields where they are found, it is discovered that "the only cover is the graveyard and mounds." The men hit the ground, looking desperately for any shelter they can find. Under the heavy bombardment of shells, coffins and bodies are unearthed, and the dead and those struggling to remain among the living are intermingled in a gory dance of death. Paul reaches out and grabs the sleeve of a corpse. So near to death himself, it is no longer a thing of horror to him. He crawls under the splinters of the dead man's coffin in hopes that "it shall protect (him), though Death himself lies in it." Another coffin is thrown up by a blast, crushing the outstretched arm of a soldier. In an effort to save the soldier, Paul and Kat toss the corpse unceremoniously out of the coffin; where there is no respect for the living, neither is there respect for the dead. When the coffin is finally lifted, Kat takes a piece of it to make a splint for the soldier's shattered arm, in a desperate attempt to preserve life with an element associated with death. When the firefight is over, the graveyard is "a mass of wreckage and corpses lie strewn about." Paul notes that "they have been killed once again; but each of them that was flung up saved one of us." 

The graveyard scene shows the closeness of human life in war to the dead. There is little difference between the two, and no respect for either, as soldiers and corpses alike are indiscriminately blown to bits. Human life has little value, and death is not such a poor alternative to life. When Kat and Paul see the extent of the young recruit's horrendous hip wound, Kat poses the suggestion of putting him out of his misery, death perhaps being preferable to a few more days of life lived in screaming agony. The soldiers and the corpses share a camaraderie of sorts; they are not so different, and the dead give their lives again for those still struggling to live (Chapter 4).

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