All Quiet On The Western Front

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All Quiet On The Western Front

Chapter 1
The chapter begins with German soldiers at rest after fourteen days of fierce battle on
the Western Front. A double ration of food has been prepared so the soldiers are eating
their fill. Paul Baumer, the protagonist and narrator of the novel, watches in amazement
as his friends, Tjaden and Muller, eat another helping; he wonders where Tjaden puts all
the food, for he is as thin as a rail. Baumer is only nineteen years of age. He enlisted
in the German infantry because Kantorek, his high school teacher, had glorified war and
talked him into fighting for the fatherland. Kropp, Behm, and Leer, former classmates of
Baumer, were also persuaded by Kantorek to join the infantry. They are all now fellow
soldiers along with Tjaden, Westhus, Detering, and Katczinsky.


After a good night's rest, the soldiers are in line for breakfast. They are overjoyed that
the cook has made food for one hundred and fifty men when there are only eighty of them;
they again envision being able to eat all that they want. The cook, however, says that he
can only distribute food for eighty; but the soldiers argue and overrule him. After
breakfast, mail is distributed. Baumer and his friends stroll over to the meadow, located
near the latrines. Baumer muses how embarrassed all of them were in the beginning to use
the latrines that offered no privacy. Now all their modesty has vanished. Still, he
believes that a "soldier is on friendlier terms than other men with his stomach and
intestines. Three quarters of his vocabulary is derived from these regions."


Kantorek has written and sent a letter in which he calls his past students, now soldiers,
"Iron Youth." Ironically, the young men, all of them around twenty years of age, are no
longer youth; war has forced them to grow up beyond their young years. The old classmates
talk about how they had idolized Kantorek while they were in school; now they hate him,
blaming him for their misery. After all, he was the one who talked them into joining the
military. They also blame him for the death of Josef Behm, one of their classmates who was
the first of them to be killed. In truth, Baumer and his friends resent all authority at
this point in their lives; the brutality of war that they have experienced has caused them
to lose faith in the older adult generation.


The chapter next focuses on Franz Kemmerich, a friend of Baumer whose leg has just been
amputated. He is in a makeshift hospital and in great pain; Kropp bribes an orderly to
give him morphine to make him more comfortable. In spite of the pain, Kemmerich frets that
his watch has been stolen by someone in the medical facility. His friends try to comfort
him. Muller, however, has his eyes on Kemmerich's leather boots and tries to persuade
Kemmerich to give them to him. Being the practical and logical one of the group, Muller
feels that Kemmerich no longer has use for a matched pair. He also knows that one of the
orderlies in the hospital will steal the boots, just as the watch was stolen. Moral
decadence is obviously a by-product of the war.


Notes
It is obvious from the opening chapter that this novel will center on the war and the
effects it has on a young group of soldiers, none of them more than twenty years of age.
They are all friends and former classmates of Paul Baumer, the narrator and protagonist of
the book; they have enlisted in the German infantry because their teacher, Kantorek, had
painted for them a glorious picture of fighting and saving the homeland from destruction
during World War I. In this first chapter, Baumer and his friends are away from the front
lines, relaxing a bit after two weeks of fierce fighting. As each of the young men is
introduced, it is apparent that they are tired, hungry, angry, and disillusioned over the
war.


The young soldiers are miserable over their plight and cast blame on Kantorek. All of them
have been in the midst of battle on the Western Front and have seen the horror and
devastation caused by the fighting. One of their former classmates, Josef Behm, has
already been killed; they partially blame Kantorek for his death

as well. The only thing that makes the war tolerable is the bond of friendship that Kropp,
Leer, Kemmerich, and Baumer have with one another; in fact, Baumer constantly uses the
pronoun "we," depicting the close bond he feels with the others. When he speaks, it is as
if he were speaking for the whole group: "we are satisfied" or "we cannot blame."


Although the story is told from the German point of view by a young German soldier, it is
really not a novel about the German war effort. Remarque simply uses the German front line
as the setting of the book because he knows about it from first hand experience. In truth,
the book is meant to point out the horror, death, and destruction caused by war and its
attendant effect on human beings, no matter their nationality; already these young men
have aged prematurely, lost their modesty, and become immune to death, pain, and true
emotion. Baumer's bitterness over his war experience is no different than for any young
soldier who has dreamed of war as a glorious experience.


In addition to giving an insight into the wastefulness of war and into the degeneration of
the young soldiers, this chapter points out the hardships that military men must endure
during wartime. While fighting on the front lines, there is little time for anything but
battle, and there is little food to eat. The only thing that keeps the young soldiers
going is the comradeship they feel with one another. As they are killed, one by one, the
mood sinks ever deeper into gloom, loss, isolation, and destruction.


Chapter 2
Baumer reminisces about his past life as a student, when he used to have time to write
poetry. He realizes that his ten years of schooling have taught him less than ten weeks as
a soldier. War has quickly taught him that only the fittest survive. Baumer also thinks
about his parents, remembering the vague, but amiable, relationship he had with them.
Because of the war, he feels like he now has nothing. His relationship with his parents
has weakened further, and he has no time for girlfriends or fun. He feels totally isolated
and empty.


Baumer thinks about Muller's callousness in asking for Kemmerich's boots when the man was
close to death. He wants to believe that Muller was being logical rather than insensitive.
Baumer also thinks about his drillmaster, Corporal Himmelstoss, and calls him a bully and
a sadist; Baumer thinks the man derives great pleasure from mistreating the young
recruits. Kropp, Muller, Kemmerich, and Baumer were all assigned to him because they were
a tough, defiant lot, and Himmelstoss was capable of handling them. Although he can
inflict punishment on them, the Corporal is never able to break their spirits.


It become obvious that Kemmerich is dying. He grieves over his unfulfilled dreams of being
a head-forester. Baumer tries to comfort this man, who has been his friend since
childhood. When Kemmerich is close to death, Baumer searches for a doctor to help him. The
doctor refuses to come, saying he has already amputated five legs that day. When Baumer
returns to Kemmerich's bed, the young soldier is already dead. Almost immediately he is
removed from the bed to make way for those patients who are on the floor. Baumer suddenly
realizes how precious life is.


Notes
The mood in this chapter grows more dark and gloomy as images of the wastage and
desolation of war are given. Also the chapter more fully develops Baumer's character. It
is obvious that he is a gentle, compassionate, and humane soul and intellectually superior
to the rest of his friends. He is also a very honest person and tries to present
everything as factually as possible.


Baumer again admits his misery in this chapter. Cut off from his parents, girlfriends, and
fun, he feels totally empty and isolated. His only pleasure is the bond that he has with
his soldier friends, and he tries to think the best of them. He justifies Muller's
insensitivity as logical thinking and stays by Kemmerich's bedside as the young man
approaches death.


This chapter also provides new insights on how most of the men in the war have become
immune to sensitive feelings. This is seen in the case of the doctor who refuses to attend
to Kemmerich because he is too tired after amputating five legs. It is also seen in the
fact that only Baumer is by Kemmerich's side as he is dying. The chapter also reveals more
of the horrible conditions that accompany a war. After Kemmerich is dead, he is quickly
moved from his bed so some patient that is currently lying on the floor can be put in his
place.


Kemmerich's death emotionally affects Baumer, and his emotions draw the reader closer to
him. First, the death intensifies his thoughts about the wastefulness of war; a
nineteen-year-old friend lies dead for no valid reason. It also makes Baumer hunger for
life himself; he wants to fight to go on living. Finally, it makes him blame the entire
world for the soldier's death. He thinks that everyone should be "forced to pass
Kemmerich's death-bed to pay homage and to redeem themselves."


Chapter 3
Baumer and his friends swagger like veterans as new recruits arrive. Katczinsky tells one
of them that he is lucky to receive bread with turnips to eat rather than sawdust. Kat
then produces a stew of beef and haricot beans for himself. He is a resourceful young man
and a good organizer. No matter where he is, he always manages to find food and supplies,
feats that always amaze his friends. As he watches a fight between a German and an Allied
plane, Kat muses aloud that if all the men were given the same salaries and food, the war
between Germany and the Allies would be over, for the leaders would want to go home. Kropp
remarks that the ministers and generals of the two countries should be armed with clubs
and sent into an arena to fight it out. The survivor would be declared the winner of the
war.


Kropp comments that the more insignificant the person is in civilian life, the more bull
headed he becomes as an officer in the army. Himmelstoss is used as an example; before the
war, he was a lowly mailman. His small bit of military power has gone to his head. Tjaden
announces that Himmelstoss has arrived at the front. The friends remember one dark night
when they caught Himmelstoss, wrapped a blanket over his head, and beat him mercilessly;
they were never caught or discovered. All the other soldiers in camp thought that they
were heroes and praised their action.


Notes
Two key ideas are developed in this chapter: the importance of comradeship and the
stupidity of war. The chapter begins as new recruits arrive in camp. Baumer and his
friends act like veterans and tease the newcomers. Kat even taunts one of them with beef
and bean stew. Somehow this resourceful soldier is always able to find extra food and
supplies to share with his friends. The comradeship is also seen as the friends reminisce
about the time they paid back their drillmaster, Himmelstoss, for all the cruelty he had
inflicted. They caught him on a dark road, threw a blanket over him so they would not be
seen, and then beat him up. Back in the barracks, they were welcomed as heroes.


The friends then discuss the stupid futility of war. They feel that the fighting is caused
by greed for more land; dirt, then, becomes more important than human life. Kropp contends
that fighting turns all men into beasts and claims that the less important a man was in
civilian life, the more power-hungry and self-impressed he becomes in war. He also
suggests that generals from both sides should be put in an arena with clubs to fight it
out, instead of playing mind games with each other. The winner of this physical contest
would be the winner of the war.


It is important to notice that, like Chapter 1, this is a relatively light chapter that
actually includes a bit of humor. It serves as a bridge between the pain of Kimmerich's
death in the last chapter and the deaths that are to come. In fact the first three
chapters really serve as a mild introduction to the death and destruction of war. The next
chapter will plunge right into the battle.


Chapter 4
One dark night, Baumer's unit is assigned the task of laying barbed wire at the frontline,
putting them into grave danger. As they approach their position, there is a dense smell of
smoke and the sound of artillery. Tense with fear, they all know that death is close at
hand and can claim anybody at any moment; they all grow alert and watchful.


After placing the barbed wire, the soldiers try to rest, but they are soon awakened by the
sounds of terrible shelling. They listen to the painful moans of horses that are wounded.
They watch the rescue operations as the wounded men are nursed and the injured horses are
shot. When the shelling starts again, Baumer is pelted with splinters and shrapnel, but is
not seriously hurt. He manages to slowly crawl into a shell hole in a graveyard, where he
encounters a coffin and a corpse; however, he cannot leave the hole, for a gas attack has
begun.


As the shelling continues, more and more corpses are thrown out of their coffins and into
the graveyard, and more soldiers are wounded or killed. The new recruit with whom Kat had
joked is hurt badly and close to death. Baumer and Kat talk about a mercy killing for the
young soldier, for they believe that only death will relieve him from his intense pain.
Before they can actually decide or act, the rest of the unit arrives, thwarting any plans.
Both men feel terrible for the new young recruit.


Notes
World War I was basically fought on land in trenches with both sides constructing
intricate tunnels. The Western Front, which was approximately five hundred miles long, was
the scene of many battles like the one presented in this chapter. It is the first time
that the reader is actually seen military action in the book.


Baumer's unit has been assigned the duty of laying new barbed wire at the front line, a
very dangerous job. From the moment of their arrival at the front, the young soldiers are
tense and watchful, fully aware of death's proximity. Baumer comments that war is like a
whirlpool whose vortex is slowly sucking them in. He looks at the ground below him and
sees it in a new way; he realizes that the earth is the soldier's best friend, who can
either give him new life or take his life away.


The soldiers lay the barbed wire without incident; when the job is complete, they rest.
Soon, however, an intense shelling begins; both men and horses are hit. As the horses moan
in pain, accusing the men of their wrongdoing, Baumer manages to crawl into a shell hole
in a graveyard; he finds he is sharing the hole with a coffin and a corpse, but can do
nothing about it. Before long the entire graveyard is strewn with corpses and empty
coffins, disturbed by the shelling. The author notes that during the bombing the
relationship between the dead and the alive becomes intimate. Baumer points out that the
flinging of each corpse from a grave probably saved the life of one soldier.


The description of battle is very vivid in this scene. Remarque spares no detail in
describing the acrid smells, the piercing sounds, the wounded soldiers, the moaning
horses, the corpses strewn in the graveyard, or the empty coffins. The author also manages
to realistically capture Baumer's emotions during the battle.


Chapter 5
The soldiers return to their huts. They pass their time killing lice and waiting for
Himmelstoss. They casually discuss what they would do if peace were declared. Tjaden
jokingly says he wants to spend the rest of his life torturing Himmelstoss. Westhus wants
to join a peacetime army. Kropp believes that the war has permanently ruined them; he
fears that after the war, they will be good for nothing. It is Baumer, however, that truly
captures the depression of this wartime generation: "We were eighteen and had begun to
love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first
explosion burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from
progress."


When Himmelstoss finally appears, Tjaden insults him. Though the company commander,
Lieutenant Bertinck, is sympathetic to Baumer and his friends, he is forced to punish them
for any insubordination. As a result, Tjaden and Kropp are given "open arrest;" it is an
intentionally light sentence. At the end of the chapter, Baumer and Kat entertain
themselves by roasting a stolen goose. As they enjoy eating the goose together, they
appear as "two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death." Once
again the life/death theme is clearly depicted by Remarque.


Notes
In this chapter, Remarque continues to build on the life/death theme that runs throughout
the book. Like chapters 1 and 3, this section is about life, living, and friendship and
serves as a bridge between two bleak chapters. For the moment, the soldiers are at rest,
away from the front, dreaming of peacetime. Tjaden actually jokes about Himmelstoss and
then openly insults the old drillmaster when he arrives. Baumer and Kat cook a stolen
goose and enjoy each other's company; but at the end of the chapter, the author reminds
the reader of the "circle of death" that surrounds them. In war, it is impossible to
separate life from death. As a result, every lighter chapter in the book is preceded and
followed by one filled with the horror of death at the battlefront; as a result, the
structure of the book enhances the main theme of the book, that war brings senseless
destruction, followed by moral decay. The repeated contrast between life away from the
front and the fear of death at the battle line is very effective.


Chapter 6
The Germans and Allies are again involved in a fierce battle that begins with an artillery
bombardment, followed by an infantry attack. Baumer and his friends are in the trenches.
Before the charge begins, Baumer feels like he is in a cage, waiting to be killed; the new
recruits are hysterical. All the soldiers know that it is only chance that will cause them
to live or die.


As both sides advance and then retreat, they leave behind a scene of death and
destruction. There is blood everywhere, and several soldiers, who are still alive, have
had their skulls blown apart; others have had both feet severed. Corpse rats run amidst
the battlefield debris. Ironically, a stack of new coffins is placed against a nearby
school, visually depicting the life vs. death theme. The schoolhouse causes Baumer to
think about his former life.


The soldiers fight fiercely, motivated by self-preservation. Baumer comments that he would
even kill his own father, flinging a bomb into him, if he were with the Allies. The
fighting continues in the trenches throughout the summer. When it is time for Baumer's
company to retreat, there are only thirty-two men, out of one hundred and fifty, who
return to the rear line. The remaining soldiers are relieved that they have lived through
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