Paul and the other members of the Second Company are resting after being relieved from the front lines. When they went to the front, their company contained one hundred and fifty men. Only eighty returned. The quartermaster requested rations for a full company, but on the last day, they suffered a heavy attack. The surviving men receive a double ration of food and tobacco. Paul, Leer, Muller, and Kropp are all nineteen years old. They are all from the same class in school, and they all enlisted voluntarily. Tjaden is the same age, but he is a locksmith.
He eats voraciously, but remains thin as a rail. Haie Westhus, also the same age, is an enormously built peat-digger. Detering is a peasant with a wife at home. Katczinksy is the unofficial leader of Paul’s small group of comrades. He is a cunning man of forty years of age. Paul remembers that they were embarrassed to use the general latrines when they were recruits. Now, they are a pleasure. Every soldier is intimately acquainted with his stomach and intestines. “Latrine humor” offers the most succinct expression for joy, indignation, and anger. The men settle down to rest, smoke, and play cards.
They do not talk about their narrow survival during their last trip to the front. Kemmerich, one of Paul’s classmates and a member of the Second Company, is in the hospital with a thigh wound. Paul and his classmates’ schoolmaster, Kantorek, urged them to enlist as volunteers to prove their patriotism. Joseph Behm did not want to go, but eventually he gave in to Kantorek’s unrelenting pressure. He was one of the first to die, and his death was particularly horrible. With Behm’s death, Paul and his classmates lost their innocent trust in figures of authority.
Kantorek often writes letters to them filled with the empty phrases of patriotic fervor. They go to see Kemmerich, who is unaware that his leg has been amputated. Paul discerns from his sallow skin that Kemmerich will not live long. Muller wants Kemmerich’s boots, but Paul subtly discourages him from pressing on the matter. They will have to keep watch until Kemmerich passes on and take the boots before the orderlies steal them. Paul bribes an orderly with cigarettes to give Kemmerich some morphine for the pain. Paul and the other young men of his generation were cut off from life just as they had begun to love it.
The older soldiers have jobs and families to which they can return after the war. They will forget the trenches and the death, but the young men have nothing definite to which they can set their sights. Their past lives are vague, unreal dreams. During the training, Paul and his classmates learned that classical patriotism requires the loss of individuality and personality, a sacrifice that civilians do not require of even the lowest class of servants. Corporal Himmelstoss, formerly a postman, trained Paul’s platoon. He is a small, petty man who relentlessly humiliated his recruits, especially Paul, Tjaden, Westhus, and Kropp.
Eventually, Paul and the others learned to balk Himmelstoss’s authority without outright defiance. Paul knows that the humiliation and the arbitrary discipline toughened him and his friends. Otherwise, the front lines would have made them go insane. Paul attends Kemmerich’s death throes. He lies to his friend, and assures him that he will get well and return home. Kemmerich knows that his leg is gone, and Paul tries to cheer him with the advances in the construction of artificial limbs. Kemmerich tells Paul to give his boots to Muller. Kemmerich begins to cry silently and refuses to respond to Paul’s attempts at conversation.
He dies within minutes, and Paul takes his boots to Muller. Commentary Before World War I, wars generally did not involve non- stop fighting over a period of years. Often, the armies were comprised of hired mercenaries, or professionals who fought seasonally. The opening of the novel portrays a very different picture. The soldiers are volunteers or conscripts. The army has become an expression of patriotic duty, not a career. Paul and his classmates enlisted because their schoolmaster, Kantorek, pressured them to do their duty by their country.
Outside the classroom, young men of their age faced ostracism and condemnation from society for being cowards if they did not join the war effort as volunteers. In England, able- bodied men of age faced similar pressure to join the army. World War I was an expression of nationalism, a form of political ideology that swept Europe during the nineteenth century. The citizen was expected to give unquestioning loyalty to the state. Unfortunately, the romantic ideals of the nineteenth century were at odds with the reality of modern trench warfare.
Paul and classmates are the tragic victims of this disjunction between the idealism and the reality of The Great War. The opening chapters of the novel serve to introduce details about the reality of the war. Nearly half of the Second Company was killed or wounded during the last tour of duty on the front. Paul reports this fact matter of factly in his narrative. He expresses no surprise. Therefore, such heavy, sudden casualties are very common on the front. The cook’s main concern is not that seventy men have been injured or killed, but whether he should dole out the rations for a full company to the remaining survivors.
This is also the primary concern of the soldiers. The message inherent in the opening scenes to the novel is that massive carnage is an everyday occurrence in trench warfare. Therefore, the participants are desensitized to the violence, death, and destruction around them. Kemmerich’s death extends the criticism of romantic illusions about the war. It also highlights the fact that soldiers faced a lot of dangers, not merely enemy fire. Muller describes Kemmerich’s wound as a “blighty,” a non- lethal wound that keeps the soldier out of combat for a while.
Such wounds were considered a boon to receive because they mean a break from the miserable conditions of trench warfare. The sheer number of wounds placed a huge strain on the medical supplies. No country that entered The Great War was prepared for a prolonged conflict involving hundreds of thousands of injuries. Moreover, the conditions on the battlefield were unbelievably unsanitary. And antibiotics had not yet been discovered. Therefore, slight wounds could easily become infected with lethal bacteria. Gangrene was a constant problem that led to the amputation of limbs after relatively light wounds.
Millions of men were maimed for life in the war, and many lost more than one limb. Kemmerich’s death is utterly senseless. He dies from a relatively light wound, and there is no glory in his death. It is merely ugly and pointless. His meaningless death shatters the romantic rhetoric in Kantorek’s patriotic phrases. There is no honor in warfare. Moreover, there is no room for refined notions of honor. Muller needs Kemmerich’s boots. It is not that he or any of the other survivors is not affected, but they cannot dwell on sentimental grief. Life on the front is dangerous, ugly, dirty, and miserable.
The soldiers do not have adequate food and clothing, so the day to day matters of survival take precedence over sentimentality. They cannot afford to do otherwise. If they dwelled on every friend’s death, they would invite madness. Chapter 3- More than twenty of the reinforcements for the Second Company are new recruits. They are all around seventeen years old. Kat gives one of the new recruits some beans he acquired by bribing the company’s cook. He warns the boy to bring tobacco next time as payment for the food. Kat’s ability to scrounge extra food and provisions amazes Paul.
Kat is a cobbler by trade, but he has an uncanny knack for all manner of things. Kat believes that if every soldier got the same food and the same pay, the war would end quickly. Kropp proposes that the declaration of wars should be conducted like a festival. He wishes the generals and national leaders would battle one another with clubs in an open arena. The country with the last surviving man wins the war. Paul and his friends remember the recruits’ barracks with longing now. Even Himmelstoss’s petty humiliations seem idyllic in comparison to the actual practice of war.
They muse that Himmelstoss must have been different as a postman. They wonder why he is such a bully as a drill sergeant. Kat replies that Himmelstoss is like a lot of other men. He remarks that even a dog trained to eat potatoes will snap at meat given the opportunity. Men are the same when they are given the opportunity to have a little authority. Every man is a beast underneath all his manners and customs. The army is based on one man having more power over another man. Kat thinks the problem is that they have too much power. Civilians are not permitted to torment others the way men torment one another in the army.
The irony of the drills is that they do not exist on the front line. They exist a few miles behind it. Tjaden arrives and excitedly reports that Himmelstoss is coming to the front. Tjaden has a grudge against Himmelstoss. Tjaden is a bed wetter, and Himmelstoss set out to break him of his “lazy” habit. He found another bed wetter, Kindervater, and forced them to sleep in the same bunk bed. Every night, they traded places. The one on the bottom was drenched by the other’s urine during the night. The problem was not laziness, but bad health, so the ploy did not work.
Often, the man assigned to the bottom slept on the floor, frequently catching a cold. Haie, Paul, Kropp, and Tjaden had their revenge on Himmelstoss once. They lay in wait for him one night on his return from his favorite pub. They threw a bed cover over his head, and Haie punched him senseless. They stripped him of his pants and took turns lashing him with a whip, muffling his shouts with a pillow. Afterwards, they slipped away, and Himmelstoss never who gave him the beating. Commentary Paul and his friends conclude that the army and warfare function on an imbalance of power.
Those with more authority enjoy the luxuries of greater power. Kat concludes that if everyone received the same pay and the same food, the war would end quickly. However, not everyone suffers equally. Common soldiers receive such inadequate food and clothing that they must steal to survive. The difference in amenities between common soldiers and officers, between lesser officers and greater officers, facilitates the prolongation of the war. If they all suffered equally, then they would identify more completely with one another through their experiences. However, they do not fraternize with one another.
One of the purposes of maintaining the imbalance of power and suffering in an army is to create a situation in which one man can order another to perform an action that may cost his life. This is the ultimate form of authority of one man over another. Moreover, the intense bonds between common soldiers make them more willing to sacrifice life and limb to save their comrades. Without this structure of power in modern armies, modern warfare could not exist. Kropp proposes that the leaders who declared war should have to battle one another and suffer the consequences for their decisions.
The imbalance between nations and their leaders sparks a conflict between them. The expression of this conflict arises from an imbalance of power between leaders of nations and their citizens. Leaders can draft men for their armies and send them into armed conflict. Within the army itself, the imbalance of power between the common soldier and the officers further facilitates the armed conflict’s prolongation. From the top level of power down to the bottom, there are increasing degrees of suffering and decreasing degrees of luxuries.
Therefore, the imbalance of power allows very powerful leaders to declare war without suffering the worst consequences of their decisions. The common soldier must live with misery of the trenches and the psychological horror of actual combat. However, Kat attributes an instinctive desire for power and authority to man. He compares man to a dog in his desire for authority. As a civilian, Himmelstoss was a simple postman, and he snapped at the opportunity to enjoy authority over others as a Corporal in training camp. The irony of the army is that all the pomp and circumstance mean nothing on the front line.
All the marching, bed-making, bowing and scraping cease to exist in actual combat. The drill has more to do with the ability of a few men to luxuriate in the pleasure of demanding the submission of another. Himmelstoss’s use of authority to order recruits to march, salute, and bow has nothing to do with combat. It is only one of the perks of his greater position of power. Moreover, when Paul and his friends talk about enemies, they do not speak of the soldiers on the other side. Instead, they view fellow country-men as the origin of their pointless suffering.
They blame the petty power- hungry men like Himmelstoss and powerful leaders on their own side. The implication behind their discussion of the origins of the war and the structure of the army is that the common soldiers on the other side are victims like they are. Oddly enough, however, those other men are the ones they must kill in combat. Chapter 4 The Second Company is assigned to the task of laying wire at the front. Everyone crowds into trucks. The drivers do not risk using light, so the trucks often lurch when they hit deep holes in the road. No one minds that they are often nearly thrown from them.
A broken bone means they will not have to fight until it mends again. They pass a house, and Paul detects the cackle of geese. He and Kat agree to make a surreptitious visit later. The sound of gunfire and shells fills the air. The veteran fighters are not gripped with fear like the new recruits. Kat explains to the recruits how to distinguish which guns are firing by listening to the blasts. He announces that he senses there will be a bombardment later in the night. The English batteries have begun firing an hour earlier than usual. The experienced soldiers change “imperceptibly. In the roar of guns and the whistling of shells, their senses sharpen. Paul regards the front as a “mysterious whirlpool. ” Already, he feels its pull. For the soldier, the earth takes on a new significance. He buries his body in it for shelter.
It receives him every time he throws himself down in a fold, furrow, or hollow. Often, it takes him in forever. At the front, a man’s ancient animal instincts awaken. They are a saving grace for many men who obey them without hesitation. Often, a man drops to the ground just in time to avoid a shell he did not even hear coming. On the front, men transform from soldiers to “human animals. The soldiers carry wire and iron rods to the front. Shortly before they arrive, they extinguish cigarettes and pipes. After they lay the wire, they try to sleep until the trucks arrive to drive them back. Kat’s prediction about the bombardment is correct. Everyone scrambles for cover while the shells land around them. Paul attempts to replace a terrified recruit’s helmet on his head, but the boy cuddles under his arm. Paul places it on his behind to protect it from shell fragments. After the shelling lessens, the recruit comes to and notices with embarrassment that he has defecated in his pants.
Paul explains that many soldiers experience this problem at first. He instructs the boy to remove his underpants and throw them away. They hear the wrenching sounds of wounded horses. Detering is particularly horrified because he is a farmer and he loves horses. After the wounded men are gathered, those in charge of the job shoot the wounded animals. Detering declares with disgust that using horses in war is the “vilest baseness. ” As the trucks drive them back, Kat becomes restless. A flurry of bombs lands around them. The men take cover in a nearby graveyard.
Paul crawls under an uncovered coffin for protection. Kat shakes him from behind to tell him to put his gas mask on. After he dons his mask, Paul helps a new recruit don his mask. Afterwards, he dives into a hole left by an exploding shell. Shells seldom hit the same place twice. Kat and Kropp join him. Paul takes a breath on the valve, hoping that the mask is air tight. Sometimes they are not, and the victims die, coughing up blood clots from their burned lungs. Later, Paul climbs out and notes that one man not wearing his mask does not collapse. He tears his mask off and gulps fresh air.
The shelling has stopped. Paul notices a recruit lying on the ground with his thigh a mass of flesh and bone splinters at the joint. It is the recruit who defecated in his pants earlier. Kat and Paul know that he will not survive his wounds. Kat whispers that it will be more merciful to end his life with a gunshot before the agony of his wound begins to torment him. They are not able to complete their plan because other people are emerging from their holes. Commentary During The Great War, laying barbed wire was one of the most unpopular jobs on both sides.
It was also an extremely dangerous job. After a period of massive bombing, soldiers had to return and lay wire where it had been blown away. The job had to be conducted at night, and the darker it was, the better. If they were to lay the wire in daylight, they would be picked off by snipers or bombed promptly by the other side. Even the drivers of the trucks transporting the Second Company to the front dare not turn on their headlights for fear of attracting attention. Soldiers could easily suffer a fatal accident during such moments because the roads are so treacherous.
The work itself is heavy and unpleasant, and it is made all the more difficult by the darkness. The soldier does not even have the protection of the trenches and a lit cigarette, or flash of light from an exploding shell, is enough to give away their position to the enemy. Even though the darkness is the soldier’s chief protection, it also gives rise to the psychological torment of not being able to see the enemy. A soldier can never be sure a sniper does not have a gun trained on him. He can never be sure that a flash of light has not given his position away.
The only thing on which he can rely is pure animal instinct, throwing himself to the earth when he senses danger. Paul’s description of the soldier’s relationship with the earth is full of the metaphors of sexual acts and the child’s relationship with its mother. The earth is a dense symbol representing all the archetypal human relations: desire, love, need, and even death. It is shelter that saves his life as well as the final resting place for his dead body. Paul’s description of the experienced soldier’s reaction to the front strips the romanticism out of the war experience.
He does not speak of the honor and glory of fighting for one’s country. The soldier does not really fight for his country on the front. He fights for his life. He relies on animal instinct to save him from bullets and bombs, and he concentrates on acquiring food, clothing, and shelter, not on some abstract ideal of patriotic duty to the fatherland. The recruit’s first trip to the front is a test of fire. If he cannot immediately shed his illusions about the war, and the useless elaborate drills of the training camp, he either goes mad or dies.
His training camp can do nothing to prepare him for the front. The real training begins with gaining experience on the front. He must learn to cope with constant fear, uncertainty, bombardment, and violence by becoming a “human animal. ” World War I soldiers had to face the possibility of new weapons for which they are not prepared. Poison gas was one of those weapons in The Great War. Germany was the first side to use poison gas in the war. The leaders of Germany claimed that France had used chemical weapons first, so they felt justified in breaking the terms of the Hague Convention.
The soldiers on the other side were utterly unprepared for the chlorine gas that crept towards their trenches. England and her allies quickly developed gas masks for it, but only after a number of painful, agonizing deaths. Afterwards, chemists on both sides researched furiously to find various gases and methods of delivery. Often the winds blew the gas back into their own trenches. By the end of the war, mustard gas, chlorine gas, and phosgene were being used. The effects on the victim were utterly unbelievable. Some fell where they lay and turned black.
Mustard gas was odorless, and it did not take effect for twelve hours. Huge blisters rose on the victim’s skin, and he often suffered blindness. Chlorine gas destroyed the respiratory systems of many victims. Those who received a lethal dose not strong enough to kill them faced a slow, agonizing death, coughing up blood clots from their damaged lungs while gasping for breath. In the early days of poison gas, there was a delay between its introduction and the development of a mask to protect soldiers against it. Before then, they could do nothing other than flee the poisonous cloud.
Snipers from the other side could pick them off as they fled the trenches. Because gas was a new weapon, soldiers learned how to avoid injury and death only through experience. Masks were only part of this endeavor. They learned that gas lingered in the shell holes and trenches longer only after seeing others make the mistake of removing their masks too soon. Chapter 5 :: Every soldier on the front is constantly infested with lice. Tjaden, tired of killing them separately, scrapes them off his skin with a wire into a boot-polish tin. He kills them by heating the tin with a flame.
His lice have red cross on their heads, and he jokes that he got the at a hospital where they attended to the surgeon- general. Himmelstoss has arrived, proving the rumor true. He was observed excessively tormenting some recruits and sent to the front as punishment. Muller begins asking everyone what they would do if the war ended suddenly. Albert says the war will not end, but Muller persists. Kat mentions his wife and children. The younger men mention women and getting drunk. Haie says he would become a non-combat army man since digging peat is such a terrible occupation.
Tjaden states that he would concentrate on getting revenge on Himmelstoss. Detering would return to manage his farm. Himmelstoss approaches their group. Their lack of recognition of his authority disconcerts him. He orders Tjaden to stand, but Tjaden moons him in response. Tjaden rushes off to hide before Himmelstoss returns with the authorities. Muller continues with his questions. They calculate that there are only twelve men left out of the twenty from their class who joined the army. Seven are dead, and four are wounded. One went insane. They recite questions Kantorek shot at them in school.
All of their schooling seems pointless now. They wonder how they will get used to civilian jobs since they never had any before they went to war. Paul cannot even imagine anything. Albert concludes that the war has destroyed everything for them. They are not impetuous youths any more, but men perpetually on the run. They cannot believe in anything except the war. Himmelstoss returns with the sergeant-major. Paul and the other refuse to tell him where Tjaden is. The sergeant- major solves the problem by declaring that Tjaden must report to the Orderly Room within ten minutes.
They resolve to torment Himmelstoss every moment they get. Himmelstoss returns later to demand they tell him where Tjaden is. Kropp remarks sardonically that men will rush to obey his orders on the front while they are being killed and maimed by the dozens. Himmelstoss storms off. Later that evening, Kropp and Tjaden undergo trial for insubordination. Paul and the other relate the bed- wetting incident, and the presiding lieutenant gives Tjaden and Kropp light punishments. He lectures Himmelstoss about his behavior. Tjaden receives three days open arrest, and Kropp gets one.
Paul and the others visit them and play cards where they are enclosed by a wire netting, the confines of open arrest. Kat and Paul bribe a driver of a munitions wagon with two cigarettes to take them to the house where the geese are kept. Paul climbs over the fence and enters the shed to find two geese. He grabs both and slams their heads against the wall, hoping to avoid a commotion. The maneuver does not work, and they cackle and fight with him furiously before he manages to escape with one goose in hand. Kat kills it quickly, and they retreat to an unused lean-to to cook it.
They have to eat it quickly before the theft is discovered. They keep the feathers to make pillows. Paul feels an intimate closeness with Kat as they roast the goose. They eat their fill take the rest to Tjaden and Kropp. Commentary The rate of infestation by lice in the trenches was close to one hundred percent during World War I. De-lousing was completely pointless, since a man was infested again within hours. The de-lousing techniques rarely killed the eggs on his body and clothing. Besides the continual discomfort of itching and scratching, the lice were a source of typhus and Trench Fever.
Trench Fever was rarely fatal, but it often removed a soldier from combat. If the soldier did not receive medical leave, it weakened him and thus made him even more vulnerable. Soldiers often removed clothing only to see it teeming with swarming lice. It seems that the cloth moved of its own will. The sanitary conditions in the trenches were terrible. Soldiers rarely had an opportunity to bathe, so they learned various methods of de-lousing themselves for temporary relief. Picking them one by one and bursting them between finger nails was too tedious and it was a losing battle because there were so many.
They learned to use candles and wire to scrape them off in large numbers, and it took no small amount of skill and practice to avoid burning themselves. Muller’s persistent questioning about his friends’ post- war plans reveals why the young generation of men who enlisted right out of school is termed “the lost generation. ” Older men who had pre-war jobs and families regard the war as an interruption in their lives that will eventually end. They had concrete identities and functions within society. Younger men like Paul and his classmates had no such concrete identities.
They entered the war when they were on the threshold of their adult lives. None of them have definite answers to Muller’s questions. Many of the lost generation regarded the war as something that could not possibily end because they could not imagine anything else. They gained their identities as soldiers. Their experiences of the war were so shattering that many could not imagine functioning in a peacetime environment. Haie gives the most definite post-war plans, but even his answer involves remaining in the army. He still cannot imagine himself as anything but a soldier.
Paul and his younger comrades cannot imagine functioning in civilian jobs after what they have seen and done. Their curt answers to Muller’s questions betray a certain anxiety about the end of the war. It is almost as if they fear the end of the war as much as they fear the war itself. Thinking and planning for the future requires concrete forms of hope. The horror of trench warfare does not allow them to have hope other than the desire to survive. They have no experiences as adults that do not involve a day to day fight for survival and sanity.
Paul and his younger comrades’ only definite plan for the future is to exact revenge against Himmelstoss. Tjaden even defines his post-war plans in terms of avenging himself against Himmelstoss. Paul ironically notes that their only goal is to “knock the conceit out of the postman. ” Their army experiences have infiltrated their thinking to such an extent that these experiences form the basis for their only goals. School, learning, and their education seem completely useless now. Kantorek used to strike fear into their hearts, but now he seems ridiculous and superfluous to their existence.
The petty humiliations of Himmelstoss loom much larger in their minds. Moreover, peacetime social relations can never approach the intimacy or intensity of a soldier’s bonds with other soldiers. Paul marvels at the flood of emotion he experiences while roasting the stolen goose with Kat. He and Kat would never have known one another in peacetime, but the war brought their lives together in a crucible of horror. Their shared suffering makes peacetime concerns and friendships pale by comparison. In many ways, the bond forged between soldiers in trench warfare is the only romanticized element to Remarque’s novel.
Chapter 6 The Second Company returns to the front two days early. On their way, they pass a shelled schoolhouse. Fresh coffins are piled by the dozens next to it. They make jokes to distance themselves from the unpleasant knowledge that the coffins were made for them. At the front, they listen to the enemy transports and guns. They detect that the enemy is bringing troops to the front, and they can hear that the English have strengthened their artillery. The men are disheartened by this knowledge as well as the fact that their own shells are beginning to fall in the trenches.
The barrels on the guns are worn out. The soldiers can do nothing but wait. Chance determines much of their luck or misfortune. Once, Paul left one dug-out to visit friends in another. When he returned to the first, it had been completely demolished by a direct hit. He returned to the second only to discover that it had been buried. The soldiers have to fight the fat, aggressive rats to protect their food. Large rations of cheese and rum are doled out to the men, a bad sign. Every man receives numerous grenades and ample ammunition. They also remove the bayonet blades with a saw on one edge.
The enemy kills anyone caught with this kind of weapon on sight. Kat is in bad spirits. Paul knows this is a bad sign since Kat has an uncanny sense for knowing what will happen on the front. Days pass before the bombs begin to fall. No attack comes right away, but the bombs continue to fall. Attempts to deliver food to the dug-outs fail. Even Kat fails to scrounge something. They settle down to wait. Eventually, a new recruit cracks and attempts to leave. Kat and Paul have to beat him into submission. Later, the dug-out suffers a direct hit. Luckily, the shell is a light one, so the concrete holds up against it.
Three recruits crack, and one actually escapes the dug-out. Before Paul can retrieve him, a shell whistles through the air and smashes the escaped recruit to bits. They have to bind one to subdue him. Everyone else tries to play cards, but no one can concentrate on the game. Finally, the shelling lessens. The attack has come. Paul and his comrades throw grenades out of the dug-out before jumping out. The French attackers suffer heavy losses from the German machine guns and grenades. The soldiers kill with a mindless fury after days of waiting helplessly in the dark while the bombs fell above them.
The Germans repel the attack and reach the enemy lines. They wreak havoc and destruction before grabbing all the provisions they can carry. They run back to their position to rest for an hour. They devour the tins of food they have gathered. The enemy is far better provisioned than they are. Later, Paul stands watch. Memories of the past come to him. They are always calm and quiet because calm and quiet are so distant on the front. The memories bring sorrow rather than desire. In the trenches, desire for the past is unattainable because they are cut off completely from that world.
The soldiers are dead men walking. Days pass while dead men accumulate between the two warring sides. Paul and his comrades listen to one man’s death throes for three days. They are unable to locate him despite their best efforts. The new recruits figure heavily in the dead and wounded. The reinforcements sent to replace them have had little training, and they drop like flies on the front. They are younger than ever before. During an attack, Paul finds Himmelstoss in a dugout, pretending to be wounded. Paul forces him out with blows and threats. They rush forward with the attack.
The old hands try to teach some of the new recruits some combat tricks and knowledge during the hours of rest. They forget it when the fighting begins again. Haie Westhus receives a fatal wound. When the Second Company is relieved, only thirty-two are left of the original one hundred fifty men. Commentary The conditions in the trenches are nearly unimaginable for those who have never known war. First, the trenches stank. Soldiers slept, ate, and defecated in the same trenches. Bodies lay rotting by the hundreds of thousands in No Man’s Land and in the trenches themselves. The rotting corpses attracted legions of rats.
They grew large, fat, and extremely aggressive. Not only did they compete with soldiers for food, but they also occasionally overpowered and ate wounded men who could not defend themselves. The rats, lice, feces, and corpses in and around the trenches provided a paradise for disease-causing microbes. Men who stood for hours in the filthy, water-logged trenches without changing their socks or drying their boots for hours developed trench foot. The victim gradually lost the sensation in his feet while the skin turned red or blue. Untreated trench foot could lead to gangrene which almost certainly mean amputation.
Moreover, owing the difficulty in delivering food and water to the trenches during bombardments, soldiers often had to resort to drinking the filthy water in the trenches. It is important to remember that The Great War occurred before the discovery of antibiotics, and that a shortage of medical supplies such as antiseptics, clean bandages, and painkillers quickly became a problem. In hospitals with particularly bad shortages, doctors and nurses were forced to use salt to disinfect wounds. Imagine having a handful of salt rubbed into a wound or an amputated stump without the benefit of adequate painkillers.
World War I was the first war in which the killing did not often involve seeing the enemy face to face. It was also the first war in which the enemy was demonized through an intense, organized campaign of propaganda. De-humanizing the enemy made killing him more palatable. The weapons were designed to maim and kill as many people as possible. Moreover, they were designed to cause horrific deaths in order to terrorize the remaining enemy survivors and demoralize their fighting spirit. Grenades, machine guns, poison gas, shells, and saw bayonets were just a few common weapons.
Before modern trench warfare, inventive military strategies and sweeping victories were possible. The Great War quickly became characterized by battles of attrition. The goal was not “victory,” but to wear down the enemy’s ability to attack or even continue the war. The strategy was basic. The attacking side bombarded enemy trenches relentlessly, sometimes for up to a week. The death toll from bombardment compared to the death toll in the actual attack was comparatively low. The Germans in particular built strong bomb-proof dugouts, although those built later were of lesser quality.
After the bombardment, a wave of attacking soldiers advanced on the enemy trenches. Unfortunately, the defending side knew the attack was coming the moment the bombing ended. They manned their machine guns and mowed down the attacking soldiers. The result was an ever-growing collection of bodies in No Man’s Land. The major battles of attrition in The Great War resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties. There really was no “victor” because the gains usually meant a few hundred yards of ground. Generally, they ended in stalemates with an unprecedented cost in human lives and human suffering.
The soldiers not only faced the constant threat of physical injury and death. They faced intense psychological stress. During bombardments, they often huddled for days in crowded dugouts. The weight of uncertainty wore down a soldier’s mental reserves because mere chance often determined his survival or his death. When other soldiers cracked, the remaining soldiers had even more difficulty remaining calm. They saw every imaginable form of damage to the human body. They listened to the death throes of the wounded and dying in No Man’s land. Often, they were unable to retrieve the victims, and some of them took days to die.
They suffered the trauma of being buried alive when their dugouts were hit by enemy shells. Early in the war, doctors noticed a condition they later termed “shell shock. ” In our time, shell shock is called post-traumatic stress syndrome, a recognized psychological disorder. In World War I, the army was not very sympathetic to shell shock victims, accusing them of cowardice or weakness. Some of the victims never recovered. Other soldiers, unable to withstand the relentless wear on their mental reserves, committed suicide by shooting themselves or walking directly into enemy fire.
Paul’s description of the German response to the attack leaves no doubt as to the decidedly unromantic nature of trench warfare. The Germans rout the enemy from their own trenches. However, they do not achieve this success out of patriotic fervor or bravery. They are men driven to the brink of insanity. They savagely kill and maim the attackers, not because they are enemies of the fatherland, but because they can do nothing else to release the anxiety, stress, and terror of days long bombardment. Despite the fantastic success of the German soldier’s defense, there are numerous clues in this chapter that Germany is losing the war.
The English and the French have increased the strength of their artillery, but the German weapons are worn so badly that the shells often fall into German trenches, killing German soldiers. The new recruits are younger than ever before, and they have had scant training. As a result, they die in numbers five to ten times higher than experienced soldiers. Germany is running out of able-bodied adult men. The soldiers are being killed and wounded at such a rate that they cannot even effectively train the boys they send to replace the men they have lost.
Both sides of the conflict were guilty of sending horrendously undertrained boys to die senselessly in trench warfare. Countries entertained the idea that it was romantic and heroic that young boys died for their country. There are records of children as young as twelve and thirteen serving as soldiers in the war. Remarque bitterly illustrates that they died defending nothing because they were too young and too unprepared to defend their own lives much less their country. CHAPTER 7 : The Second Company is sent to a depot for re-organization. Himmelstoss tries to make good with them after having been to the front.
He becomes generous with food and easy jobs for them, and even wins Tjaden over. Good food and rest are enough to make a soldier content. Away from the trenches he makes vulgar jokes as usual. Otherwise, there is no hope for him. Over time, his humorous jests become more bitter. He flees madness in a losing race. Paul, Leer, and Kropp meet three women while they are swimming. They communicate with them in broken French, indicating that they have food. They are forbidden to cross the canal, and the women are not allowed to do so either. Later that night, they gather some food and swim across, wearing nothing more than their boots.
The women throw them clothing. Despite the language barrier, they chatter endlessly. They call the soldiers, “poor boys. ” Paul is inexperienced, but he yields to desire. He hopes to recapture a piece of his innocence and youth with a woman who does not belong to the army brothels. Paul receives seventeen days of leave. Afterwards, he has to report to a training base. He returns to the front in six weeks. He wonders how many of his friends will survive six weeks. The woman on the other side of the canal is not interested to hear about his leave. If he were going to the front, it would be more exciting.
When Paul reaches his home town, he finds that his mother is ill with cancer. The civilian population is slowly starving. He cannot shake a feeling of “strangeness. ” He no longer feels at home in his family’s house. His mother asks if it was “very bad out there. ” Paul lies to her. He has no words to describe his experiences that she would understand. A Major becomes angry that Paul does not salute him in the street. As a punishment, he forces Paul to do a march in the street and salute smartly. Paul wishes to avoid further such incidents, so he begins wearing civilian clothing.
Paul’s father, unlike his mother, keeps asking him questions. He does not understand that it is dangerous for Paul to put his experiences into words. Others who do not ask questions take too much pride in their silence. Sometimes, the tramcars’ screeching startles him because they sound like shells. Paul sits in his bedroom with his books and pictures, trying to recapture the feelings of youth and desire, but the memories are only shadows. His identity as a soldier is the only thing to which he can cling. Paul learns from a fellow classmate, Mittelstaedt, now a training officer, that Kantorek has been called up a territorial.
When he met Kantorek, Mittelstaedt lorded his authority as a superior officer over his old schoolmaster. He bitterly reminded Kantorek that he preached Joseph Behm into enlisting against the boy’s wishes. He would have been called within three months anyway. As a result, Joseph died three months sooner than he would have otherwise. Mittelstaedt arranged to be placed in charge of Kantorek’s company and takes every chance to humiliate him, miming Kantorek’s old admonitions as a schoolmaster. Paul’s mother becomes sadder as the end of his leave looms closer.
Paul visits Kemmerich’s mother to deliver the news of her son’s death. She demands to know how he died, but Paul lies to her by telling her he died quickly with little pain and suffering. He swears by everything he holds “sacred. ” Paul’s mother sits with him in his bedroom the last night of his leave. He tried to pretend that he is asleep, but he notes that she is in great physical pain. He urges her to return to bed. Paul wishes he could weep in her lap and die with her. He wishes he had never come on leave because it only awakens pain for himself and his mother. Commentary
Paul, Leer, and Kropp’s liaison with the three French women is an important symbolic event in All Quiet on the Western Front. Most of Paul’s sexual experiences have occurred in the army brothels. The character of his sexual experiences represents a further loss of youthful innocence. Paul wants his experience with the French woman to recapture some of his youthful innocence. It is not insignificant that he symbolically seeks refuge in the arms of the enemy. In a sense, his actions imply that the redemption he seeks cannot come from his leaders or his fellow Germans. They pressured him into the horrific trenches, so they betrayed him.
They offer him prostitutes in the army brothels, further engaging in the destruction of his youthful innocence. However, Paul does not find understanding or recognition of the value of his humanity from the woman. He clashes again with the romantic idealizations of war. For her, he is a passing, perhaps titillating, sentimental fantasy for her. He is attractive because he is young and lives in constant mortal danger on the front. She is not interested in hearing about his leave to go home. If she were never to see him again because he was returning to the front, he would be more exciting for her.
She wants him to be an abstract symbol, but he wants her to see him as a human being. At home, people approach him in the streets because they want to be seen serving or talking to a soldier. For them, he is the representation of their romantic, patriotic ideals. He also runs into yet another petty authority figure. We have seen pompous, ridiculous power hungry men in Kantorek and Himmelstoss. The Major who humiliates him in public is still obsessed with the distinctions and formalities of rank. He does not recognize the immense amount of suffering Paul has experienced. Again, the theme of betrayal is important.
The authority figures that demanded he become a soldier and fight do not demonstrate any understanding or respect for him even after all the sacrifices he has made. Paul does not want to talk about the truth of trench warfare with his family or with the civilians who ask him about it. Partly, his reluctance is due to his need to maintain emotional distance from his terrible experiences. Putting those experiences and his reactions to them into words threatens the mental reserves he will need when he returns to the front. Partly, he is reluctant because those who have never seen the ravages of trench warfare cannot possibly understand it.
Truthfully describing them would also raise the risk of being branded as unpatriotic. It would make the war effort sounds like a pointless, brutal exercise in futility. He also does not want to discuss his experiences because the truth will cause pain for his family. In their own way, they are suffering as well. He does not want to add to their pain by telling them what the war is really like. Paul’s visit to Kemmerich’s mother also threatens his need to emotionally distance himself from his traumatic experiences. He faces the pain of a grieving mother, and this threatens to open the gates of his own grief.
He lies to her about the circumstances of her son’s death because he cannot deal with his own anguish at watching a friend die a bad death. He swears on everything he holds sacred because he wants to escape, but also because he really no longer holds anything sacred. Paul’s visit to his home town also reveals more clues to the fact that Germany is losing the war. The civilian population is suffering from a severe food shortage. In some ways, Paul’s reluctance to be truthful about the war is also due to his reluctance to tell his fellow citizens that their own suffering is senseless.
They need justification for their sacrifices towards the war effort. CHAPTER 8+9 Paul reports to the training camp. Next to the camp is a prison for captured Russian soldiers. They pick through the garbage for food. Paul can hardly understand how they find anything in the garbage. Food is so scarce that everything is eaten. Paul can scarcely believe that these men with “honest, peasant’s faces” are the enemy. Many are slowly starving, and they are stricken with dysentery in large numbers. Their soft voices bring images of warm, cozy homes to Paul’s mind. Most people ignore their begging. A few kick them.
The brotherly spirit between the prisoners touches Paul. They live in such miserable circumstances that it is no use for them to fight amongst themselves anymore. Paul cannot relate to them as individual men because he knows nothing of their lives. He only sees the animal suffering in them. People he has never met said the word that made these men the enemy. Because of other men, they must shoot, maim, and kill one another. Paul pushes these thoughts away because they threaten his dissolution. He breaks all of his cigarettes in half and gives them to the prisoners. 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. It only makes Paul sadder. Before he returns to the front, Paul’s sister and father visit him. They cannot find anything to talk about except his mother’s illness. The hours are an agony for them. His mother is in the hospital with cancer. His father did not even ask what the operation would cost because he fears the doctors will not perform the surgery if he does. Before they leave, they give Paul some jam and potato cakes that his mother made for him. He plans to give them to the Russians because he has no appetite for them.
He remembers that his mother must have been in pain when she made them, so he gives them only two cakes. When Paul returns to the front, he finds Kat, Muller, Tjaden, and Kropp still alive and uninjured. He shares his potato cakes with them. The Kaiser is scheduled or a visit, so everything is cleaned. All the soldiers are given new clothes. Paul and the others are disappointed to see that he is not a very remarkable man. After he leaves, the new clothes are taken away. They muse that thirty people in the world could have said “No” to the war, and it would not have happened. They do not understand who is right and wrong.
They are defending their fatherland and the French are doing the same. They conclude that wars are useful only for leaders who want to be in the history books. Paul volunteers to crawl into No Man’s Land to gather information about the enemy’s strength. On his way back, he becomes lost. A bombardment begins, and he knows an attack is coming. He has to lie still and pretend to be dead. He crawls into a shell hole to wait. An enemy solider crashes into the shell hole with him, and Paul stabs him quickly. It is too light to make his way back. Later he notices that the French soldier is not dead.
Paul bandages his wounds and gives him water. The man takes several hours to die. It is the first time Paul has killed someone in hand to hand combat, and the experience rends his soul. Paul talks to the dead soldier, explaining that he did not want to kill him. Paul finds a picture of a woman and a little girl in the man’s pocketbook. He reads what he can of the letters tucked inside. Every word is an agony to read. The dead man’s name is Gerard Duval, and he was a printer by trade. Paul copies his address and resolves to send money to his family anonymously. As dark falls again, Paul’s survival instinct re-awakens.
He knows he will not fulfill his promise. He crawls back to his trench. Hours later, he confesses the experience of killing the printer. Kat and Kropp draw his attention to their snipers enjoying their job of picking off enemy soldiers. They point out that he took no pleasure from his killing and he had no choice unlike the snipers. Commentary Paul’s experiences with the Russian prisoners is another attack on the romantic, patriotic ideals of the war. He cannot see them as enemies. Other people more powerful than he and the prisoners made them enemies. Someone else decided they had to shoot, kill, and torture one another.
Paul quickly flees these thoughts. The philosophical reaction only makes the senselessness of everything he has experienced all too apparent. It threatens the last threshold of hope he has. He decides to save his thoughts for a later time because he can afford to entertain them now. Nationalistic spirit that drove several countries into unprecedented levels of carnage. The leaders of these various nations disseminated propaganda telling their citizens that there was an essential difference between them and the enemy. Paul finds such ideas ridiculous and dangerous. The prisoners actually only remind him of German peasants.
They seem no different and no less human. Yet, they would be required to kill one another if the prisoners were free. Paul’s subsequent discussion with his comrades continues in the same vein. The irony of The Great War is that soldiers on both sides were sent to war based on the same ideals. After this crucial realization, they cannot determine who is right and who is wrong. In the end, those ideals are used by power- and status-hungry leaders to seduce other citizens into supporting a war that does nothing but harm them. The wars are useful only to very few men who never actually see combat.
A small number of leaders made the decision to enter a war that cost millions of lives. The senselessness of the matter is that fewer than thirty men made that decision. Paul’s entrance into No Man’s Land as a spy is one of the most dangerous jobs in trench warfare. It also provides the conditions for the most traumatic experience he suffers in the novel. For the first time, he kills a man in hand to hand combat. He sees the enemy face to face, so he is forced to realize the true cost behind his taking of another human being’s life. Gerard Duval is not a vague figure he kills from a distance.
Paul is disgusted to find blood on his hand after he stabs Gerard. Paul bandages Gerard once he realizes that he is not dead. Paul is shocked to see the terror in the Gerard’s eyes. Paul is forced to realize that he is the object of such fear. He hesitates to read Gerard’s name in his paybook because his victim will take on en even more concrete identity. He is forced to see what he has destroyed. He is forced to realize that Gerard’s wife and child are victims of his actions as well. By the time Paul returns to the trenches, he ceases to refer to Gerard as an individual. He calls him “the printer. It is difficult to judge him morally because he cannot survive the war if he does not emotionally distance himself from the experience. He cannot function as a soldier if he remains in the grips of grief and remorse he experienced in the hours after the Gerard’s death. Remarque’s sympathetic portrayal of the enemy is an attack on the nationalistic values that provoked The Great War. When the enemy becomes human, the romantic patriotism that fueled the war effort becomes a heinous crime. Men were pitted against one another under the very same banners: home, country, and family.
The enemies are also fathers, husbands, and sons, not monsters. Chapter 10 : Paul, Tjaden, Muller, Kropp, Detering, and Kat have to guard an empty village because a supply dump is there. They are also supposed to supply themselves from the dump. They choose a dug-out and proceed to take advantage of the opportunity to eat and sleep as much as they can. They take a large mahogany bed, mattresses, and blankets into their dug-out because such comforts are a luxury they do not enjoy normally. They collect eggs, butter, and they have the amazing luck to find two suckling pigs.
They proceed to collect fresh vegetables and cook a grand dinner in a well-outfitted kitchen hear the dug-out. Paul makes pancakes while the others roast the pigs. Unfortunately, the enemy notes the smoke rising from the chimney and proceeds to bomb the house. The men gather the food and make a dash for the dugout. Paul finishes the pancakes while the bombs fall around him. Once he finishes, he grabs the plate of pancakes and manages to get to the dug-out without losing a single one. The meal lasts four hours. Afterwards, they smoke cigars and cigarettes from the supply dump.
They drink coffee, and begin eating again before they end the night with cognac. They even feed a stray cat. The richness of the meal after such long deprivation causes them to suffer bouts of diarrhea all night. For two weeks, the men live a “charmed life” before they are moved again. They take the bed, two arm chairs, and the cat with them. While they are evacuating another village, Kropp and Paul are wounded by a falling shell. They find an ambulance wagon after struggling out of the zone of the shelling. Albert has been wounded very close to his knee. He resolves to commit suicide if they amputate his leg.
Paul’s leg is broken and his arm is wounded. He and Albert arrange to travel to the hospital in the same train car together by bribing a sergeant-major with cigars. Albert develops a fever and must stop at the Catholic hospital nearby. Paul fakes an illness to go with him. The first day, Paul has to fight to get the nuns to close the door while they pray. The patients cannot sleep for the noise. Albert’s fever does not improve, so they amputate his leg from the thigh. Men die daily at the hospital. The amazing array of maiming wounds shows Paul that a hospital is the best place to learn what war is about.
He wonders what will happen to his generation after the war ends. How can they live a normal life when their first calling was killing? 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. He wanted to go out with his wife because he has not slept with her for two years. Before she arrives, he develops a fever, so he is confined to bed. When she arrives, she is nervous. Lewandowski explains what he wants, and she blushes furiously.
The other patients tell her that social niceties are no good during this day and age. Two men guard the door in case a doctor or one of the nuns arrives to check on a patient. Albert holds the child, and the other patients play cards and chat loudly with their backs to the couple. The plan is carried out without a problem. Lewandowski’s wife shares the food she brought with the patients. Paul heals well. The hospital begins using paper bandages because the cloth ones have become scarce. Kropp’s leg heals, but he is more solemn and less talkative than he used to be.
Paul thinks he would have killed himself if he were not in a room with other patients. Paul receives leave to go home and finish healing. Parting from his mother is harder than the last time. She is weaker than before. Commentary The scenes in the evacuated village are full of a certain bitter comedy. Paul and his friends make use of the opportunity to celebrate and live a charmed life because the chances to relax and become human are so few and far between. While Paul’s decision to stay and finish his pancakes while bombs are falling around the kitchen seems like a gross misalignment of priorities, there is a strange, crazy logic to it.
Pancakes are his favorite dish. He could easily die tomorrow and never have them again. However, there is a dark side to this scene. The men grab their food first and then they seek shelter. Paul finishes the last four pancakes before he runs for shelter. He and his friends are so used to being bombed and shot at, that they can actually maintain the nerve to preserve their meal. Moreover, they are so starved and hungry for real food that they are actually willing to risk their lives for it. At the same time, their antics while guarding the supply dump provide an instance of hope.
Small elements of humanity and human folly can actually survive the trenches. The ride in the train with Albert is also full of comedic humor. Despite the dirtiness and coarseness of life in the trenches, Paul still suffers from a boyish modesty in his reluctance to tell one of the nurses he needs to go to the bathroom. He does not want to lie in the bunks because the sheets are so clean and he is so dirty. The Catholic hospital also contains moments when Paul’s boyish innocence shows signs of surviving. He throws a bottle at the door in order to force the nuns’ to shut it when they pray.
Another man takes the blame because he has a medical excuse for irrational, impetuous outbursts. Paul and the other patients react with glee when they discover this because they know they can commit all sorts of mischief and infractions of the rules. The patient with the license to misbehave without consequences can always take credit for it. Lewandowski’s feverish anticipation of his wife’s visit demonstrates that the normal course of human concerns can indeed survive the trenches. Moreover, the scene in which he carried out his plan also shows the extraordinary level of familiarity and intimacy that soldiers share with one another.
No one takes offense at his desire to enjoy conjugal relations with his wife while they are in the room. In fact, they all take part in the plan by preventing doctors and nuns from interrupting its progress. However, there is a dark side to the comedic humor in the scenes at the hospital as well. Men die every day from their wounds. Lewandowski may never see his wife again because he might not survive his wounds. Moreover, overzealous doctors use wounded soldiers as guinea pigs for their crackpot ideas. One doctor cripples a number of otherwise able-bodied young soldiers by trying to cure their flat feet.
Kropp suffers an intense depression over the loss of his leg. The use of paper bandages in the hospital reveals that Germany is suffering even greater shortages in necessary resources for the war effort. It also another clue to the fact that Germany is losing the war, but still continuing to prosecute it. Moreover, the hospital is filled with men suffering from permanently disfiguring injuries. There are wards for soldiers suffering from poison gas injuries, amputations, blindness, and various other injuries. The hospital in a museum of the vast array of maiming or lethal injuries to which the human body is subject in modern warfare.
It is the place where the most succinct and shocking evidence of the human costs of war can be seen. Paul himself thinks that anyone who wants to learn about the war should visit a hospital. He does not think they learn anything from listening to the romantic ideals of patriotic duty. Chapter 11+12 : Paul and his comrades cease to count the weeks they spend in fighting. He compares war to a deadly disease like the flu, tuberculosis, or cancer. Their thoughts go dead while fighting. While resting, their thoughts are “good. ” Their past lives are “no longer valid. The soldiers’ differing status before they joined the army ceases to mean anything. Before, they were “coins of different provinces. ” Now, they are “melted down,” and they all “bear the same stamp. ” Their identities are first as soldiers, and second as “individual men. ” They share an intimate, close bond with one another like convicts sentenced to death. The loss of their differences and distinctions would have meant their deaths. Survival requires their complete, unquestioning loyalty to one another. For the soldiers, life is a constant avoidance of death.
They have to be reduced to unthinking animals because instinct is their best weapon against the specter of death. It helps them survive the horrendous conditions of trench warfare without losing their minds. However, the war wears them down despite themselves. Eventually they begin to crack. Detering sees a cherry tree blossoming one day. He takes a branch from the tree with him. His orchard at home is full of cherry trees. He deserts the army a few days later. His misfortune is that he tries to go back home instead of fleeing to Holland, and he is captured and tried as a deserter. The Second Company never hears from him again.
An enemy shoots Muller point-blank in the abdomen. His death lasts half an hour, and it is extremely painful. Paul receives his boots which were once Kemmerich’s boots. The war is going badly for the Germans. The quality of the soldiers’ food worsens, and there is considerably less of it. Dysentery strikes them with a vengeance. The Germans’ weapons are worn and useless against the newer, more powerful artillery of their enemies. The new recruits are younger than ever before, and they have no training. Wounded men are sent back to fight before they are healed, and even crippling physical defects do not save them from combat duty.
Leer bleeds to death from a thigh wound. The summer of 1918 is horrific. The Germans are obviously losing, yet they keep fighting. Rumors of a possible end to the war make the soldiers more reluctant to return to the front line. Kat is wounded while bringing food he has scavenged. Paul cannot leave him to find a stretcher because Kat is bleeding too quickly. Paul painstakingly carries him to the dressing station while shells crash around him. Kat is the only friend Paul has left in the army. When he reaches the station, he discovers that Kat suffered a fatal head wound from a shell fragment during the trip.
By autumn 1918, Paul is the last of the boys in his class left alive. The war rages, but if it does not end soon, the German people will revolt. Paul receives fourteen days leave because he was injured by poison gas. A wave of intense desire to return home sweeps him, but he is frightened because he has no goals. He fears that his generation will yield no survivors. He fears that they will return home as living dead, shells of human beings. He cannot bear the thought. Something must survive the years of bombardment. Paul dies in October of 1918, on an extraordinarily quiet, peaceful day.
The army report contained only one phrase: All quiet on the Western Front. His face was calm, “as though almost glad the end had come. ” Commentary The final chapters to All Quiet on the Western Front are full of bitter irony. Even the battle- hardened soldiers are reaching the point of collapse. Their past lives have ceased to mean anything anymore. They have lost any perspective of existence that includes peacetime. Paul compares the war to a disease. Again, his representation attacks romantic ideals of warfare. Up until now, he and his friends have avoided allowin