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All Quiet on the Western Front

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In short, All Quiet on the Western Front is a book about the First World War.  According to Erich Maria Remarque, the book’s author, the book is “neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure”.  This book gives the point of view of a German soldier named Paul Baumer and his friends in the Second Company and follow them throughout the war, those who do end up making deep enough in the war to be followed.

Chapter 1

           This chapter introduces us to Paul and the rest of his fellow soldiers Leer, Muller, Kropp, Paul’s former classmates, Tjaden, Haie, Detering and Katczinsky other men who Paul is closer to in his company.  The men wake up and start lining up for breakfast when they find out that there’s enough food for 150 men, but only 80 men came back from the last night’s attack.  They manage, after an argument, to convince the cook to serve out double rations to everyone.  The soldiers have just come back from the front lines after fighting a long 14-day stint on the front and are now taking a small break before they have to be sent up again.

Paul and the others that were in his class discover that their classmate Franz Kemmerich has been wounded and is currently in the hospital.  When they arrive at the hospital they are told by one of the hospital orderlies that Kemmerich’s leg had to be amputated, when the boys go in and see him he is still unaware that he is missing his leg.  Muller, upon seeing this is quite interested in his boots; of course Kemmerich will not be using them.  Muller is trying very intently to get the boots from Kemmerich until Paul finally treads on his feet and gets him to stop.  On their way out of the room they manage to bribe a hospital orderly into giving Kemmerich some morphia to ease his pain.

When they are back on their huts at the camp, Kropp, upon reading the letter that he has received from Kantorek, their schoolmaster back at home, that called them the “Iron Youth”.  Then the chapter ends with Paul thinking, “Youth?  That is long ago.  We are old folk.”

Chapter 2

The second chapter is started with Paul’s thoughts of his writing back home and the beginning of the play that he was writing called “Saul”.  Then he goes on discussing that the war is destroying life for him and the young recruits.  The younger men have nothing back at home to go back to, all they have is hobbies and interests, and some of them do have girlfriends as well.  But, they are at the point were their parents have little control over them and that women haven’t quite yet taken hold of them.

Paul starts to reminisce about what things were like before they ended up on the front lines.  He talks of what they were like when they first enlisted.  They were just young men, they had no real plans for the future, and their heads were just “crammed full of vague ideas which gave to life.”  But during their training they became “hard, pitiless, vicious, tough” and they needed that to become successful soldiers.  They were put through hours and hours on end of drills until they finally got so tired of them that they stood up to their unjust commander Himmelstoss.

Finally we go back to Kemmerich in the hospital bed, who is very close to death at this point.  Paul, visiting alone this time, tries to comfort him, but there is no real use because he knows that we has lost his leg at this point.  Kemmerich, realizing that he’ll not need them tells Paul to give his boots to Muller, who had previously been interested in getting a hold of the boots.  After that, all Kemmerich will do is cry in his bed, then suddenly, he starts to groan and gurgle.  Paul runs out to try and get a doctor to help but by the time he gets back Kemmerich is dead.  They don’t hesitate to take away Kemmerich’s body so Paul collects his things and leaves.

Chapter 3

The chapter starts with the arrival of the new recruits to the front lines, about 25 of them are under 17.  Paul and his friends decide to “inspect the troops” which means in reality condescend and scare them.  Kat tells one of the recruits to follow him; Kat leads the soldiers to a tub of haricot beans.  He gives the one recruit a serving of the beans then turns to the other ones and says ‘Next time you come with your mess-tin have a cigar or a chew of tobacco in the other hand”

Katczinsky has the uncanny ability to hunt down food and supplies in the most unlikely of places.  For example, he was able to find two fresh loaves of bread and some horseflesh in an area where there are no residents, no canteen, and no real hospitable terrain for a little while.  On top of the bread and meat he even managed to find a frying pan, a lump of fat and a handful of salt.

They end up discussing how the war affected Himmelstoss and the other men in charge and how they end up essentially going on a power trip.  Charge at Löhne was Himmelstoss’s favorite game.  He would set it up in the barracks room and have them run through it, the beds would represent the subway that they had to pass through.  The men would stand to the left of their beds until the command “Charge at Lohne!” came then they would scramble under the bed as fast as possible to the other side.  They practiced it for hours.  Kat thinks that Himmelstoss is a lot like other men.  He compares other men to dogs that are trained to eat potatoes.  If you put a piece of meat in front of them they’ll snap at it, much like a man will with a little bit of authority.

Tjaden has probably the biggest grudge against Himmelstoss because of what he did to him.  Tjaden is a bed wetter and Himmelstoss came up with the theory that it was out of lazyness, so he found another bed wetter, Kindervater, and stuck them on the same bed, just alternating bunks each bed.  That idea did not do anything to stop them from wetting their bed each bed, all it resulted in was one being forced to sleep on the floor, where he frequently would catch cold.

Then they finally manage to get their revenge on Himmelstoss one night before they have to leave.  One night, as Himmelstoss was coming back to his room from a pub.  When he gets closer, Paul, Haie, Kropp and Tjaden threw a bed cover over his head and start to beat him, including taking his pants and took turns lashing him with a whip.  They managed to escape without Himmelstoss finding out that it was them.

Chapter 4

Chapter is the first glimpse that we get of the front lines.  Paul’s company has to go up and lay wires down to slow the enemies down if they attack.  They get in the lorries after dark to get driven upto the lines.  On the way there Paul here’s the cackling of geese, Kat says that it will be attended to when they get back.  They can feel the rumble of the guns firing in the lorries as they arrive closer and closer to the front.  This scares the recruits already, as they fall Kat tries to explain how they can distinguish one shell from another.  Then after listening for a minute comes with the somber prediction that there will be a bombardment that night.

Paul says that the earth has a new meaning given to it to a soldier when he is on the front.  A soldier can find shelter in the earth when he presses his body up against it to avoid shellfire; he calls it his “only friend.”  A soldier can take it’s shelter on the earth, then be released for ten seconds to live, then receive him back ten seconds later.

The men lay out the wire, it takes them a few hours to finish.  They do not go back right away, there is still some time before the lorries come back to pick the men up, so they just lie down and sleep.  Paul falls asleep but is suddenly woken by the blast of a shell.  He wakes up confused; at first he thinks that they’re firework and that he’s at a garden fête.  But then he realizes where he is when he sees Kat’s silhouette.  Paul says that he feels strangely alone, but that he’s at least happy that Kat’s there.  Then shells start falling closer and closer to their location, the recruits are put on edge.  They decide to crawl out and take cover where every they can.  A shell fall amongst them and Paul hears two men scream.  Beside him lies a fair-haired recruit that has is face buried in his hands, his helmet has fallen off.  When Paul tried to put it back on, he pushes the helmet off and crawls onto Paul’s lap like a child.  Paul puts the helmet on the recruit’s rear to protect it from getting hit.  They lie there for a while, between the explosions all that can be herd is the screams from the soldiers crying out because they have been hit.

When it grows quiet, they risk a look and see red rockets come up, that is a hint that an attack will be coming.  Paul tells the recruit that it’s all over and that he can look up now.  Then, after coming to, the recruit grabs the helmet and realizes that he has soiled himself sometime during the bombardment.  Paul tells him that there’s no shame in that, and says that he should throw away his underpants and throw them out behind the bush.  

The cries will not cease however, when Paul asks what is screaming, Kat responds that there were wounded horses.  This enrages Detering, who is a farmer back where he lives and is also very fond of horses.  He calls for them to shoot them to put them out of their misery.  The soldiers cannot take the screaming anymore and have to get up and run to a place where they can no longer be heard.  Then they can hear a single shot that cracks out through the darkness and they see a black heap convulse then lie down.  They are now shooting the injured horses.  Then the crying stops and they can finally take their hands off their ears.

When they are finally on their way back to the lorries, the soldiers see a cloud of flame shoot up in front of them then someone yell to take cover.  The only cover that they can get would be in the graveyard so they run for there.  In the graveyard, Paul manages to find an uncovered coffin for cover, then he feels Kat from behind him trying to get his attention to tell him to put on his mask.  Paul sees someone who does not have his mask on, trying to get his attention he realizes that it’s a recruit.  Paul seizes his mask and pulls it over his head.  

When the shelling stops, Paul stumbles out of the shell hole to see the destruction that the shelling has caused to the front line.  There is an injured man that lies in front of Paul and Kropp when they get out.  They find that he is hit in the hip, he calls it a “mass of mincemeat and bone splinters.”  When they attempt to bandage him they find out that he is wearing no underwear, he is the recruit from before.  Kat proposes that they should end it, but they cannot continue the discussion because a crowd gathers, so they leave to fetch the stretcher.

They finally get to leave the front; they have lost only five and had eight men wounded.  They finally get to return to the camp after a long night out at the front.

Chapter 5

 

            The chapter is opened up with the men sitting in their hut trying to pick lice out of their hair.  They throw the lice into an upturned lid of boot-polish with a lit candle in it.  They first discover that Himmelstoss has arrived up at the front; this leaves Tjaden thinking of what to do to get back at him.  While picking out the lice they sit there and discuss what they will do when they return home.  Kat takes interest in this discussion and adds in his two cents.  Muller is very interested in this topic and even wakes Haie from his sleep to ask him this question.  Haie says that he’ll stay with the Prussians and serve out his time because he doesn’t want to go home and dig peat.  When Tjaden is asked he says that he’ll see to it that Himmelstoss won’t get past him, and Detering simply says that he’ll go on with harvesting.

            Himmelstoss walks unto the group, when no one makes a motion to stand up he let’s off a “Well!”  Then he seems quite lost of what to do.  He asks Kropp a question, and he retorts with an insult.  When he orders Tjaden to stand he replies with a “well known classical phrase”.  Angry, he says that he’ll have him court marshaled, then marches off to the Orderly room.  The others warn what will happen if he’s reported, but he is not bothered by it.  He figures that 5 days arrest is just 5 days rest.

            Tjaden and Kropp are put on trial later for disobeying Himmelstoss’s orders.  The soldiers are called in one by one to give their accounts of what happened.  Bertink, the lieutenant, isn’t very happy when he hears of the bed-wetting incident.  Tjaden gets 3 days open-arrest and a long sermon, and Kropp gets one day open-arrest, Bertink says that it can’t be helped.

            That night Kat and Paul decide to go out and catch some geese to roast.  They manage to get a ride in a munitions-wagon to the area that they passed before the bombardment.  Paul jumps over to go catch the geese.  He manages to grab two and stun them, but they manage to struggle and kick.  One gets loose but he manages to escape with one goose in hand.

            When they get back and begin to cook the goose, Paul’s thoughts drift off to comradeship, more specifically with Katczinsky.  This represents how close men do get to each other in war because they’re forced into this situation were they must put total trust in the men behind them.  Paul even goes as far as saying that he loves Kat, in a brotherly way of course.  The chapter ends with the two soldiers going over to give some meat to Kropp and Tjaden to eat while they’re in open arrest.

 

Chapter 6

 

            The Second Company has been called up to the front two days early.  There are rumors that an offensive will happen.  They pass a shelled out school house on the way up to the front, next to it next coffins stacked up, there’s at least a hundred of them.  They can hear transports from behind enemy lines strengthening their troops, munitions and guns.  They detect immediately that the English artillery has been strengthened.  This concerns the soldiers because the barrels of their artillery are worn out and old. The soldiers have the challenge of keeping their bread by getting eaten by the rats.  The rats that they get in the trenches are fat, evil looking rats they call corpse-rats.  They gnaw on any piece of bread they can get a hold of and they’re too smart to try and improvise a way to get around them.

            They have to sit and wait for a while before anything really happens.  The bombs don’t even start to fall right away and when they do no attack come right away.  The men just sit and wait for the attack to come, listening to the shells falling in their dugouts.  Some of the recruits were driven insane by the constant noise of the falling shells and ended up running out the door into the trenches.  Then finally after days of waiting the attack comes on them.  Paul and his comrades dash out of their dugout as soon as they hear the shells start going behind them.  They manage to mow down the French infantry with their machine guns and by using grenades.  The German troops manage to push back the attack to behind the enemy lines and start to destroy and kill as much as they can before grabbing some of the French’s food and running back to rest for a little while.

            During the night, Paul stands watch.  He is reflecting back on his past had events that have happened in him life.  He says that he has lost his youth because of the war. 

            The attacks alternate back and forth for days and days.  The losses on both sides pile up in the field of craters in the middle of the trenches.  He recounts the story about a recruit that was stuck out in the middle of no man’s land crying out for help.  They cannot find him and after a little while the cries stop and they assume that he is dead.

            During one last attack/counter-attack Paul comes across Himmelstoss who is cowering in the corner of a dugout.  Angered by this, he hits Himmelstoss and throws him out of the dugout into the trench; then, upon hearing a command from a superior officer, he jumps out of the trench and runs towards enemy lines, ready to fight.   Later on in that attack, he spots Haie dragging himself away.  He says to Paul “it’s all up.”

            After that one final attack they are relieved.  Those that remain drag their tired bodies back to the lorries and return back to the huts.  When they get back there is someone screaming “Second Company, this way!”  He is shocked at the small number of men left. There’s only thirty two men left in the company.  They march off back to their huts with the few that are left.


Chapter 7:

 

The  Second Company is sent to a depot for reorganization. After seeing the horror of the front Himmelstoss tries to make amends with the men by being generous with food and by getting easy jobs for them. Eventually he even wins Tjaden to his side.

 

Paul, Kropp, and Leer meet three French women while swimming who live on the opposite side of the canal. With the little French the men knew they tried to communicate with them.  Because both they and the women are forbidden to cross the canal they decide to grab some food and swim across at night.

Regardless of their language barrier, they talk continually. They call the soldiers “poor boys.” Paul has never been with a real woman, he has only seen the women from the brothels, the prostitutes. He hopes to reminisce about his innocence and youth with a woman. This is a very important physiological part of this novel. Not only has the war deprived him of his youth from the brothels but at the front. His nation has betrayed him by throwing him into such terror; this is why he seeks refuge in the arms of the enemy, a French woman.

 

Paul is given 17 days of leave, then he is to report to a training base, and will return to the front in 6 weeks. How many of his friends will last in 6 weeks, he has no clue. After telling the French woman that he is going on leave he realizes that she is not enthralled; her fantasy of a man in constant danger is lost and so is her interest in Paul.

When Paul arrives at home, he finds that his mother is dieing of cancer and that the German population is gradually starving. He has the feeling of “strangeness”; he no longer feels at home. His mother asks how it is at the front, he lies to her. Paul cannot explain in way that she would understand and for his own sanity he would rather not speak of it.

 

After a major gets angry at Paul for not saluting him in the street Paul decides to start wearing civilian clothing. Unlike Paul’s mother his father is constantly asking questions. He does not understand that Paul’s sanity depends on not talking about his experiences. As well Paul could tried us unpatriotic for speaking of such things or hurt his family. In his room Paul tries to recapture his childhood, sadly his youth has faded and being a soldier is all he has.

 

From Mittelstaedt, a fellow classmate and now a training officer, Paul learns that Kantorek has been conscripted into the war. Mittelstaedt tells Paul that he has put himself in charge of Kantorek’s company, and as Paul sees takes every moment to humiliate him. He never forgave Kantorek for convincing the boys to join the army; he thinks that Joseph Behm died sooner because of Kantoreks actions.

 

Paul visits Kemmerich’s mother to give her the news of her son. She relentlessly demands to know how her son died, for her sake and Paul’s he lies to her. He doesn’t want to have to put that torturous experience into words, nor does he think her knowing the details will change anything; he is dead and that’s that. He swears to her that his death was fast and painless on everything that he holds sacred, not only because he wants to escape but also because he no longer truly holds anything sacred.

 

On Paul’s last night at home his mother sits with him in his room. Paul can see that she is emense physical pain; he tries to urge her back to be. He wishes that he has never come on leave and put him and his mother through this pain, but he also wishes that he could stay and just die with her and cry in her arms.

Chapter 8:

 

Paul reports to the training camp after his leave, and finds that there is a Russian Prison camp right beside it. The prisoners are starving and have resorted to picking through trash cans to find food. But they find little or nothing. Food is scarce and all is eaten. Tgheir soft voices remind Paul of home, but most just ignore their begging, or kick them.

 

The Russians share a deep comradeship because of their miserable conditions. They share all they find amongst themselves. A few powerful people said the word that made these men his enemy. Because of orders from them, he and they are required to shoot, maim, imprison, and kill one another. Paul pushes these thoughts away because he fears he will not be able to keep his sanity if he lets his mind fall into the emotional “void” of these thoughts. He breaks all of his cigarettes in half and gives them to the prisoners. When one of the prisoners learns that Paul plays the piano, he plays his violin next to the fence. The music sounds thin and lonely in the night air, and makes Paul feel sad.

 

Before Paul returns to the front his father and sister visit him. It is as akward as it was before because they can find little to talk about besides his mother’s illness. Paul’s mother has been taken to the hospital to be treated for her cancer. His father says that he did not dare ask the hospital what the operation would cost because he was afraid that the doctors would not perform the surgery if he did. Before they leave, Paul’s father and sister give Paul some jam and potato cakes that his mother made for him. He has no appetite and decides to give some to the Russians, who share them equally, and save some for his comrades at the front and himself because he remembers how much pain his mother was in when she made them for him.

 

Chapter 9:

 

Paul returns to the front to find his remaining comrades un-injured. They are issued new uniforms and hear rumours of going to Russia. Finally it comes out that the Kaiser is coming. When they see him they are disappointed. They saw him as tall and strong, with a booming voice, while in reality he had no such traits. They discuss how if thirty people had decided that they didn’t want a war, it wouldn’t have happened, deciding that the only thing war was good for was to get leaders and generals into history books.

 

Then Paul goes into no man’s land to gather information and is forced t hide in a shell hole during an enemy attack. A French man jumps in and Paul stabs him, but he is forced to stay in the shell hole as the man dies beside him (which takes hours). Paul bandages him and brings him water. He tells him that he didn’t want to kill him, but he was afraid. He even says that without these uniforms they could be brothers. In his pocket book he sees that the man was a printer named Gérard Duval who had a wife and young daughter. He is so guilt stricken he resolves to send money to the man’s wife anonymously. But as dark falls and he creeps back to his trenches, his promise fades and the survival instinct to repress his feelings takes over. Hours later, he confesses the experience of killing the printer to his comrades. Kat and Kropp draw his attention to their snipers enjoying the job of picking off enemy soldiers. They point out that he took no pleasure from his killing and, unlike the snipers, he had no choice; it was kill or be killed.

 

Chapter 10:

 

Paul, Tjaden, Müller, Kropp, Detering, and Kat have to guard a supply dump in an abandoned village. The make a dugout of a concrete shelter and take the opportunity to relax, eat, and sleep as much as possible. Kat finds two pigs and they cook them along with a great meal, including pancakes cooked by Paul. Smoke from their chimney is spotted and the cookhouse is bombarded, but Paul still finishes cooking the pancakes while dodging shells, without losing a single one! The meal lasts for hours.

 

The eventually must leave to evacuate another village, where Paul and Kropp are injured by shellfire. They are both hit in the leg (Kropp resolves to kill himself if they take his leg) and are moved onto a medical train. When Kropp develops a fever and must get off, Paul fakes ill and goes with him. They end up in a catholic hospital where Kropp’s leg is amputated. The amazing array of maiming wounds shows Paul that a hospital is the best place to learn what war is about.

 

Lewandowski, a forty-year-old soldier, is recuperating from a bad abdominal injury. He is excited that his wife is coming to visit him with the child she bore after he left to fight two years before. Lewandowski wants to sleep with his wife, but he is confined to bed. So the other soldiers watch the door and make loud noises to keep the nuns from noticing. Lewandowski’s wife gives the other soldiers sausage and they call her mother.

 

Paul heals well and receives leave to go home and finish healing, and this time leaving her is much more difficult because she is so frail. Kropp is also healing but is much less talkative and still vows to kill himself when he gets back his gun.

 

Chapter 11:

 

There are signs everywhere that the German army is losing the war in this chapter. The new recruits are younger than ever before and have no training. Wounded men are sent back to fight before they are healed. There is little food and poor equipment for the troops. Paul and the others have very low morale and are starting to be worn down by the war. Paul compares the war to a deadly disease. They lose touch with their pre-war lives and identities; Identifying themselves as soldiers first and men second. They share an intimate, close bond with one another, like that of convicts sentenced to death.

 

Paul reflects that, for the soldiers, life is no more than the constant avoidance of death. They have to reduce themselves to the level of unthinking animals because instinct is their best weapon against death and insanity. But even with this, they begin to crack. Detering deserts one day after seeing a cherry blossom tree that reminded him of his farm and his home. He was tried as a traitor and they never heard of him again. Muller is shot in the stomach and dies, giving Kemmerich’s old boots to Paul. Leer bleeds to death from a thigh wound.

 

Kat is wounded in the leg while returning with food that he has scavenged. Paul cannot leave him to find a stretcher because Kat is bleeding too much, so Paul carries him to the dressing station. When he reaches the station, still carrying Kat, he discovers that Kat has been hit in the back of the head by a fragment from an exploding shell and has died as he carried him back.

 

Chapter 12:

 

The summer of 1918 is the bloodiest Paul has ever seen and by fall he is last of his class left alive. The Americans have joined the war making Germany’s defeat inevitable. Rumours of the end of the war make troops reluctant to return to the front.

 

Paul Inhales some gas and is given fourteen days of leave to recuperate. He really wants to go home, but is afraid of not being able to go on with life (no goals, no hope…). He fears that his entire generation is lost. That any that return home will be empty and lost, their lives destroyed just as his was.

 

After years of fighting, Paul is finally killed in October of 1918, on an quiet, peaceful day. The army report that day contains only one phrase: “All quiet on the Western Front.” As Paul dies, his face is calm, “as though almost glad the end had come.”