Introduction All Quiet On The Western Front
The novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, is a German novel, translated into English. It was written by a popular German author, Erich Maria Remarque, who was also a WWI veteran. He later fled to the United States, sensing persecution in Germany following the publication of this anti-war novel. The storyline revolves around a group of German soldiers undergoing extreme physical and mental severities of war and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The novel was published in late 1929 despite ban it. It was followed by another book, The Road Back which also banned for a long time during the Nazi invasion.
Summary All Quiet On The Western Front
The story is narrated by 19-year-old Paul Bäumer, the protagonist. He is enlisted with a group of German soldiers on the Western Front during World War I. He is motivated or forced by the patriotic speeches of his teacher Kantorek along with the whole class to volunteer for military service shortly after the beginning of WWI. Surprisingly, Kantorek has no experience of being in the military but displays an open mind and a kind heart.
Paul had a peaceful life in a German village with his father, mother, and sister, where he attended school. When the war hits the country, most of his classmates are assigned to the platoons. Paul arrives at the Western Front with his friends and schoolmates, Leer, Müller, Kropp, and others. There they meet Stanislaus Katczinsky. His nickname is Kat, he is an older soldier with experience and becomes Paul’s mentor. Paul and his fellow soldiers are deployed in frequent battles, facing terrible circumstances, and filthy conditions in the trench throughout the war while fighting at the front. It is noteworthy that the story doesn’t glorify war. It tells the story of a lost generation, all the men who were forced to fight the war and lost life. The soldiers who survived were still destroyed by the memories and trauma caused by the war. The story also allows the readers to view the conditions of the soldiers during the dreadful.
The young soldiers are sent to the war with no proper training, their lives are in constant threat because of gunfires and bombs. They also don’t get good food. All these are the major reasons for their death and luck is the only chance between being alive and dead. There is no mention of the names of any battle sights. The author describes the soldiers who are alive as old, dead, and emotionally drained.
During his break, Paul visits his hometown. He is detached emotionally because of the changes brought by the war on his mental health. He observes that his town is almost the same but he loses the sense of belonging and feels disconnected from everyone.
Paul is frustrated by his father’s questions about the war experiences. His father doesn’t understand that it increases his pain. On the other hand, Paul’s old schoolmaster tells him about strategy and advancing to Paris. He also tells Paul that his comrades on the western front don’t know the big picture. During his stay, Paul remains close to his mother, who is dying. They share their concern and love for each other a night before he has to return to the front. At the same time, he regrets wishing he had never come home.
Paul is reunited with his companions. Later, he volunteers to go on a patrol. There, for the first time, he stabs another soldier from the enemy subdivision after a short fight. Paul is filled with remorse after stabbing the pain as he sees the man in suffering in pain. He also asks forgiveness from the soldier’s dead body. Later, he shares his feelings with Kat and Albert. They reassure him and remind him that it happens in every war. Paul and his team are sent another job. They are assigned as guards to supply depot in a village. The village had already been evacuated due to heavy bombing. At the village, Paul and his men struggle to survive and fend for themselves, as they can’t get enough food. However, they compare near-starvation conditions in the German trenches and feel better.
Paul and his men enjoy and find the spoils from the village. They find cigars among other items from the officers’ luxuries from the supply depot. They also evacuate civilians from enemy villages. Paul and Albert are taken by surprise by guns fired at the civilian group and wounded by a shell. They catch the train and on the way to their home. Since Albert is wounded, his condition gets worse. Instead of returning home, he is sent to a Catholic hospital to get treatment. Paul manipulates his superiors and using bartering and bargaining methods to be with Albert. Sadly, Albert’s leg is amputated, and Paul is declared fit and ready for deployment. He is then sent to the front.
WWI almost is only four weeks away from ending. The German Army has begun to retreat. During this period, Paul loses his friends one by one. When Kat dies, Paul because completely detached to emotions and stops caring about his life. When the readers get to the final chapter, Paul is seen as hopeful and looking forward to peace. However, he does not see his future as bright and delightful. He doesn’t have any goals and doesn’t know what to do after the war. He declares that his generation will always be different and misunderstood, i.e, known as a ‘lost generation’.
Paul is finally killed on the battlefield. It is known as one of the peaceful days. The report also declares that the situation at the frontline as follows: “All quiet on the Western Front.” Paul’s dead body has a calm expression, having left this world for another home.
Major Themes in All Quiet On The Western Front
- Brutalities of War: The novel All Quiet on the Western Front shows the thematic strand of brutalities of war throughout the story. All of its characters including the protagonist, Paul Baumer, are soldiers or helpers or doctrinaires associated with WWI in one way or the other. Fighting from the German side, Paul and his men lay their camps on the western front until his final death. However, during this entire ordeal, they go through starvation, bombardment, firing, gas throwers, filthy conditions, and injuries caused by gunfires. Most of the soldier like Paul suffers from stress and trauma of the war so much so that they feel immune to passions and feelings. The final death wish of Paul reflects this brutality of war in its excessive form.
- Impacts of War: War not only impacts human beings physically but also psychologically and emotionally. When Paul, Muller, and Kantorek jump into the war, little do they know that it would rob them of their humanity. Paul, the reflective one, realizes this when killing a French soldier and again realizes its impacts on his mental faculties when his comrades Muller, Leer, and others leave him one by one. He also experiences anti-social feelings when he comes home on leave but again leaves for the front with the desire to die.
- Jingoism / False Nationalism: The novel demonstrates the theme of false patriotism is also called jingoism. It means to fill the youth with the passion to die for the homeland without questioning the justification of war. Paul, Leer, Kantorek, and Himmelstoss all are silent soldiers. They do not display pride and have no courage to question the futility of this senseless war in which they have been recruited to kill the French and others or getting killed just in the name of the land. However, Paul and some of his comrades realize that it is pointless to seek glory by dying foolishly in a war and killing others.
- Alienation: Paul Baumer and other colleagues experience alienation due to war. They feel that they are now misfit in society as their language and mentality has changed. Paul also realizes this alienation when he visits home and does not think to be able to live as a common person. Therefore, he longs to return to the front and wishes to die as he sees the end of the war in the death of his classmates and comrades.
- Comradery: The novel also highlights the comradery of the soldiers that they attack together and live together. They have gathered to join the army to fight though they have different backgrounds back in the village such as cobbler, too, is a soldier and equal to all others. Paul feels this comradery more than others as he realizes the death of Muller, Leer, and Deterring as they leave him forever.
- Animalism: War is also shown as having transformed human beings into savage animals with guns in their hands and hellbent on killing others who are unknown to them. However, this ferocity of fighting soon subsides in Paul when he comes face to face with a French soldier during the trench war. There he realizes that they have fallen quite low as animals.
- Distortion of Communication: Miscommunication and lack of linguistic ability is another dilemma created by the war. Paul feels that they have forgotten to use long and enduring social sentences they normally use at home or in their social circles. Their language has become terse, short, and concise as well as full of jargon of army and war machinery. This forces him to reverb back to his colleagues where he uses this language.
- The absurdity of War: The novel highlights not only the absurdity of life but also of war. It shows that nationalism is false, courage is transient and the military system is full of idiocies. Kantorek faces the worst of his life when he himself confronts guns and cannons. Paul Baumer, Muller, and Kantorek face their fates without enjoying their youth.
- Psychological Traumas: Although it seems that Paul is quite healthy, he is suffering from the trauma of war, the reason that he leaves home early. Himmelstoss too faces this trauma as he vents up his anger on the recruits. When Paul sees a French soldier against him as a human being, he immediately states that he was just an idea before him. This trauma leads him to die peacefully.
- Loss of Innocence: Almost all of the characters in the novel lose their innocence, for all of them join the army just when the war is upon them. Paul confesses saying that he is too young to know about death and other issues of life.
Major Characters in All Quiet On The Western Front
- Paul Baumer: As the narrator, Paul Baumer is a reflective young man, who is a protagonist. He displays self-reflective nature and his careful and cautious attitude toward his comrades despite having jingoistic feelings in the beginning. He is resilient and hardy enough to experience the death of his comrades, Leer and Muller, from close quarters and yet he keeps his balance despite knowing this barbarism and mass scale butchering is taking its psychological toll on him. The first impacts of this barbarism appear in him in the shape of alienation and anti-socialization which later developed into trauma and soon leads him to accept death as his fate. The postscript of the novel by the end announces his heroic death with peace on his face.
- Kantorek: Not only he is the tool of the bureaucracy but also of the jingoistic forces in that he indoctrinated the young generation with false patriotism to the point that they all go the hell of a war with their consent. As a schoolteacher, he has taught less and filled the young minds with the romance of war more. Therefore, when he is enlisted to participate in the war, Paul feels elated.
- Stanislaus Katczinsky: Abbreviated with the three-lettered word Kat, Stanislaus Katczinsky is significant for leaving positivity around him after gaining experience and maturity as a soldier; He is Paul’s mentor and has a slight leadership role in the war. He knows the survival of the fittest and is able to scavenge on food where he smells it yet he provides it to his comrades, too. Sadly, Kat dies after wounded by shrapnel, leaving Paul in the midst of chaos.
- Albert Kropp: Kropp is an extraordinary thinker and a good soldier. Though he is shorter than most of his team, he is active and great in action. He is a childhood friend of Paul, the reason that he always looks up to him for guidance. He sets up an example before him when standing up against Himmelstoss and his cruelties during training. Kropp soon leaves them when his legs are amputated and suffers from immense pain.
- Haie Westhus: The significance of Westhus lies in his physique and strength. Although he is a peat digger, he shows heroics on the battlefield with Paul when playing pranks with others to keep them smiling. He is brutally killed in the artillery fire in the end.
- Friedrich Muller: Muller is also an important character. He is also Paul’s classmate and dies an honorable death. While Kimmerich is about to die, he sees the practical side of life and takes his boots. He gives the same boots to Paul before his death.
- Himmelstoss: Himmelstoss is another significant character on account of his overbearing attitude toward the soldiers that he displays when disciplined during the training. However, when he appears in the war, he succeeds but not greatly. For several characters including Paul Baumer and Kropp do not take him lying down. A sadistic character, he soon learns the brutality of war and mends his behavior.
- Tjaden: Yet another schoolmate of Paul Baumer, Tjaden is popular for his gluttony and for his rebel nature. Tjaden stands up to Himmelstoss when he finds an opportunity. He even beats Himmelstoss. Though, faces punishment for this rebellious act later. As a person from a humble family of locksmiths, Tjaden survives the war to question its futility.
- Bertinck: As an officer of the company, Bertinck deserves and also wins the respect and honor in the company. He takes the deaths of his comrades to his heart and takes to kindness for distributing food among the hungry soldiers. Paul praises him for his leadership skills. Unfortunately, he is killed during a counterattack.
- Peter Leer: Leer is the close mate of Paul who wins popularity on account of his open relationships with men as well as women. A seductive fellow, he charms the French girl whom they meet near the riverine. He dies at the end due to excessive bleeding started from the shrapnel wound.
Writing Style All Quiet On The Western Front
The writing style of All Quiet On The Western Front is quite simple. The novel opens with the first-person narrative of Paul Baumer who uses very few literary devices. Therefore, this writing style likens to Hemingway’s minimalist style in which he reduces adjectives to make his prose prominently descriptive. Therefore, it is direct as well as simple. Even characters, too, use the same style, for Baumer is non-challantly terse when speaking and thinks that his family speaks too much.
Analysis of Literary Devices in All Quiet On The Western Front
- Action: The main action of the novel comprises Paul Baumer’s recruitment, arrival on the front, and then engaging in the battle with his comrades. The rising action is the battle of trenches and the artillery bombardment while the falling action is his desperation and final peaceful death.
- Adage: It means the use of a statement that becomes a universal truth. The novel shows this use of the statement in the very first sentence through its title.
- Allegory: All Quiet On the Western Front shows the use of allegory in the initial line which discloses that the characters are going to represent anti-war ideas and moral vision about the survival of human beings and the dehumanization of the soldier in this senseless war.
- Antagonist: Although it seems Himmelstoss is the main antagonist of the novel. Deep down this impression is dispelled by the ravages of the war. It shows that actually, Paul is not against anybody else or even enemy soldiers; it is the war he is against. Hence, the war and the leaders who decided to fight the war are the antagonists.
- Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel. The first allusion is the reference to WWI, the second to Plato, the third to Goethe and the fourth one is to Schopenhauer.
- Apostrophe: The novel also shows very good use of apostrophe when Pauls calls the earth in the following line: O Earth, thou grantest us the great resisting surge of new-won life. (IV)
- Conflict: The are two types of conflicts in the novel. The first one is the external conflict that starts between Paul Baumer and his comrades and the enemy soldiers, while the second one goes in the minds of the soldiers, including Paul Baumer, who sees only death ending this conflict.
- Characters: All Quiet On the Western Front presents both static as well as dynamic characters. The young man, Paul Baumer, is a dynamic character who goes through changes throughout the story. However, other characters are static such as Muller, Kantorek as well as Himmelstoss.
- Climax: The climatic takes place when Paul is involved in the first hand-to-hand battle in the 9th chapter of the novel. He kills Gerard Duval with his bayonet. However, this climax starts receding with his remorseless and his final resignation to his fate.
- Foreshadowing: The first example of foreshadowing in the novel occurs with the title of the novel that shows that it is a war novel. The rest of the novel is full of such foreshadowing. For example,
i. We have lost all sense of other considerations, because they are artificial. Only the facts are real and important for us. And good boots are scarce.
ii. Then we begin to realise we are in for trouble.
There are several other such sentences which predict the end of these young soldiers in this senseless war.
- Imagery: Imagery means to use of five senses such as in these examples:
i. The air becomes acrid with the smoke of the guns and the fog. The fumes of powder taste bitter on the tongue. The roar of the guns makes our lorry stagger, the reverberation rolls raging away to the rear, everything quakes. Our faces change imperceptibly. (III)
ii. Three guns open fire close beside us. The burst of flame shoots across the fog, the guns roar and boom. (III)
iii. We are two men, two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death. We sit on the edge of it crouching in danger, the grease drips from our hands, in our hearts we are close to one another, and the hour is like the room: flecked over with the lights and shadows of our feelings cast by a quiet fire. (IV)
The first example shows images of color, the second one of the sound, and the third one shows the images of nature.
- Metaphor: The novel also shows good use of various metaphors. For example,
i. Our gang formed the head of the queue before the cook-house. (I)
ii. We have become wild beasts. (III)
iii. We are not, indeed, in the frontline, but only in the reserves, yet in every face can be read: This is the front, now we are within its embrace. (IV)
iv. To me the front is a mysterious whirlpool. Though I am in still water far away from its centre, I feel the whirl of the vortex sucking me slowly, irresistibly, inescapably into itself. (IV)
v. The front is a cage in which we must await fearfully whatever may happen (VI)
- Mood: The novel shows a very somber, serious, and lugubrious mood. However, it also allows characters to be humorous at times, but overall it does not show this humor, for it becomes ironic as well as sarcastic.
- Motif: The most important motifs of the novel are the carnage of the war, the animal nature of the soldiers, and false patriotism.
- Narrator: The novel is narrated by the protagonist, Paul Baumer. Hence, he is a first-person narrator.
- Personification: Personification means attributing human acts and emotions to non-living objects. For example,
i. Only the mist is cold, this mysterious mist that trails over the dead and sucks from them their last, creeping life. (IV)
ii. Still the parachute-rockets shoot up and cast their pitiless light over the stony landscape. (IV)
iii. The twilight comes. (VIII)
These examples show that mist, rockets, and twilight have been personified.
- Protagonist: Paul Baumer is the protagonist of the novel. He starts the novel from the very start and captures the interest of the readers until the last page when the author has intervened to announce his death.
- Paradox: All Quiet On the Western Front shows the use of paradox through its storyline that it presents war beautifully but completely intolerable.
- Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places. For example,
i. Naturally we couldn’t blame Kantorek for this. Where would the world be if one brought every man to book? There were thousands of Kantoreks (I)
ii. Kemmerich signs with his hands. “Put them under the bed.” Müller does so. Kemmerich starts on again about the watch. How can one calm him without making him suspicious? (I)
iii. That could he do to us anyhow if he didn’t recognise us and we left early in the morning? We knew which pub he used to visit every evening. (III)
This example shows the use of rhetorical questions posed by Baumer to himself at different times.
- Theme: A theme is a central idea that the novelist or the writer wants to stress upon. The novel shows the theme explicitly given in the title, and also of the brutalization of war, animalism, human nature, miscommunication, and jingoism.
- Setting: The setting of the novel is the urban and rural areas of Germany of the early 20th century during the First World War.