At a Glance

  • All Quiet on the Western Front is an antiwar novel told from the point of view of Paul Bäumer, a German soldier fighting in the trenches in World War I. Through his eyes, the reader witnesses the horrors of war, in which soldiers are maimed, shot, and killed.
  • Kemmerich's boots symbolize death, because everyone who wears them ends up dying in the war. The butterfly Paul reaches for at the end of the novel symbolizes innocence and nature, which is being destroyed by the horrors of war.
  • Remarque wrote All Quiet on the Western Front in the style of a bildungsroman, a coming of age novel that follows characters through their formative years. Paul's spiritual growth is most obvious in his eventual disenchantment with the war.


(Novels for Students)

Point of View
Remarque has been praised for the simple, direct language of his war novels in contrast to their often violent subject matter; he is also acknowledged for his ability to create moving, realistic characters and situations. His prose style is punctuated with fragmented narrative passages that mirror Paul's often disoriented state of mind. The plot moves in a "bildungsroman" format, demonstrating a young man's personal development. There are impressionist details that move in tableau fashion. Remarque's choice of a first-person narrator does, however, create one possible problem: the two concluding paragraphs have to stem from a new, apparently omniscient third-person narrator whose intervention is needed after the death of the first-person narrator. The story does not suffer from this change of viewpoint or from the absence of any explanation of the mechanics by which it came to be set down.

The narrative stance provides Remarque with a realistic context for a naive and simple style, which is part of the novel's popular appeal, as well as a fragmented, uncoordinated syntax and use of the present tense, a form that reflects immediacy; these features thus became part of the famous 'frog's eye view' of the war. He is able to comment on events through Paul Baumer himself—and through him of the other characters—without the need to provide an omniscient narrative perspective: indeed with a requirement not to do so. Style and point of view are matched, and both reflect the incomprehensibility of war.

Narrative viewpoint and the focus on the central character are also closely linked with...

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Western front

*Western front. Theater of World War I in which German forces faced the Western Allies along an extensive series of battlefields that ran from the Belgian coast south into northern France. (The eastern front was the line along which Germany confronted Russia.) Much of the western front was made up of intricate systems of trenches from which troops sallied forth across treacherous “no-man’s-lands” in mostly futile attacks on enemy positions. Through most of the war, the battlefronts moved very little, and many troops stationed in the trenches endured continuous bombardment and suffered from appalling health conditions as formerly peaceful farmlands and pleasant countryside were converted into bloody battlefields.

It was along the western front that the French and British armies and those of their allies aligned themselves against the armies of Germany and its allies, using such modern weapons and implements as poison gas, tanks, powerful explosives, flame throwers, hand grenades, machine guns, long-range artillery, aircraft, and barbed wire. Thanks to modern technology, the scale of death and injury was catastrophic. Individual soldiers were considered expendable in outmoded military strategies governed by policies of attrition dictating the winners would be the last side to have soldiers still standing. This was especially true on the western front, where battles continued for months while corpses and casualties mounted.

The novel neither locates its protagonist, Paul Baumer, in any specific battlefield nor focuses on the larger strategies or battles of the war. Instead, it reveals the war only as it is experienced through the limited and subjective perspective of Paul, who knows little about the larger purposes of the war. Paul represents all the nameless soldiers who fought on the western front. To him, the battles seem both meaningless and frightening; ordinary days with his comrades are interrupted by unreal but frenetic periods of battle. Ironically, it is during one uneventful day on the front that the young, poetic Paul is unexpectedly shot by desultory enemy fire shortly before the Armistice is declared and the fighting stops. The impersonality and randomness of his death brings home the entire character of war on the western front as depicted in this novel—the inconsequential value of the millions of individual soldiers who died.

Home front

Home front. While most of the narrative takes place on the battlefront lines, one section of the novel takes Paul back to his hometown in Germany, allowing readers to contrast that world with his experiences on the front lines. During his leave, Paul returns home to a typical German small town of the time that is accustomed to the comforts and securities of peaceful middle-class life. The unnamed town represents all small German towns of the time.

Remarque uses Paul’s visit to his home to indicate the vast gulf between his perspective of the war and that of those who remain on the home front. The people at home, while suffering some deprivations, have no idea of the dimensions and depth of the suffering on the battlefields of the western front. Paul’s trip back home consolidates his feelings of a generational shift in which he and his peers represent a dramatic break with the past.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

World War I
Named for its complex involvement of countries from Northern Europe to Africa, western Asia, and the U.S., World War...

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Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

All Quiet on the Western Front is an antiwar novel which, in its simple direct narrative, conveys the pathos, horror, and waste that...

(The entire section is 296 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In its "Preface," Erich Remarque writes that the novel will "simply try to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped...

(The entire section is 223 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1920s: In the world of finance, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hits 381. A period of general prosperity for the country (except for...

(The entire section is 434 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Compare the soldier's viewpoint in The Red Badge of Courage with All Quiet on the Western Front. Examine the similarities and...

(The entire section is 109 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

All Quiet on the Western Front belongs to the literature of war genre that extends backward in time to Homer's Iliad and forward to...

(The entire section is 328 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Road Back (1931), Remarque's second novel, relates what happens to Baumer's friends who survive the war and return to a home...

(The entire section is 226 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

With simulated World War I trenches built on movie lots in Santa Monica, California, Universal Studios began filming All Quiet on the...

(The entire section is 360 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

All Quiet on the Western Front was adapted as a film in 1930 by Lewis Milestone, who won an Academy Award for his direction. The...

(The entire section is 110 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

The Road Back is Remarque's sequel to his most famous novel. Published in 1931, the story describes the reactions and adjustments of...

(The entire section is 168 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Christine Barker and R. W. Last, Erich Maria Remarque, Oswald Wolff (London) and Barnes and Noble (New York),...

(The entire section is 426 words.)


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Barker, Christine R., and R. W. Last. Erich Maria Remarque. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1979. An accessible biography, with a great deal of material that is relevant to All Quiet on the Western Front. Good, brief coverage of the novel’s popular and scholarly reception. The best place to start further study.

Firda, Richard Arthur. “All Quiet on the Western Front”: Literary Analysis and Cultural Context. New York: Twayne, 1993. Contains much biographical information, as well as a somewhat pedantic but solid discussion of the novel. Useful annotated bibliography.

Pfeiler, Wilhelm K. War and the German Mind: The Testimony of Men of Fiction Who Fought at the Front. New York: Columbia University Press, 1941. An excellent study of German World War I novels. The chapter on All Quiet on the Western Front treats the novel in the context of contemporary war novels; especially good on political background and reception.

Taylor, Harley U., Jr. Erich Maria Remarque: A Literary and Film Biography. New York: Peter Lang, 1989. Four brief chapters supply a very basic, even journalistic treatment of the novel and the fascinating story of the 1930 American film based on it. Useful chronology.

Wagener, Hans. Understanding Eric Maria Remarque. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991. The best starting point for further general study, a basic text that treats all of Remarque’s works. In one long chapter, All Quiet on the Western Front receives a thorough analysis. A basic biographically and historically grounded presentation.