All Quiet on the Western Front

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Corporal Himmelstoss Character Analysis

A postman in civilian life, Corporal Himmelstoss abuses young recruits in his wartime role as a trainer at boot camp. He was particularly cruel to Tjaden, a bedwetter, whom Himmelstoss made share a bed with another bedwetter, Kindervater. Kat theorizes that ordinary men like Himmelstoss come to be so cruel because all men have something cruel and barbaric in them, and this dark inner nature is released by the rigid power hierarchy of the military. Himmelstoss, however, is a dynamic character: after he is moved to a combat position at the front and experiences the horrors of trench warfare, he softens up and tries to make amends with the men he had terrorized at boot camp. In another wrinkle of complexity, Paul wonders if the cruel treatment Himmelstoss doled out actually made them better able to survive the war.

Corporal Himmelstoss Quotes in All Quiet on the Western Front

The All Quiet on the Western Front quotes below are all either spoken by Corporal Himmelstoss or refer to Corporal Himmelstoss. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Horror of Modern War Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Ballantine Books edition of All Quiet on the Western Front published in 1987.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Had we gone into the trenches without this period of training most of us would certainly have gone mad. Only thus were we prepared for what awaited us. We did not break down, but adapted ourselves; our twenty years, which made many another thing so grievous, helped us in this. But by far the most important result was that it awakened in us a strong, practical sense of esprit de corps, which in the field developed into the finest thing that arose out of the war—comradeship.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker), Corporal Himmelstoss
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul reflects on training for the war under Corporal Himmelstoss. He observes that while the corporal’s tactics may have been brutal, they were absolutely necessary to prepare them for the front.

Although other passages have presented the war as massively destructive on the soldiers’ psychology, this line shows that it could have been even more dire. Himmelstoss’s training, Paul explains, may have been awful but it was also necessary to imbue the soldiers with the stamina and resilience to not “break down.” He therefore reveals a certain respect for the harshness of such a leader—even recasting cruelty as necessary and pertinent in certain situations.

Beyond improving mental resilience, Paul explains, this training also had a significant impact on the group mentality of the soldiers. “Esprit de corps” is an expression taken from French to mean, literally, the “spirit of the body”—or the ineffable energy that connects a group of people in a metaphorical “body.” His emphasis on “comradeship” as perhaps the only positive effect of the war is worth noting. For despite his emphasis on atrocity and psychological toil, Remarque repeatedly lauds the efficacy of the soldier unit against that toil.

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Corporal Himmelstoss Character Timeline in All Quiet on the Western Front

The timeline below shows where the character Corporal Himmelstoss appears in All Quiet on the Western Front. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
The Horror of Modern War Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Comradeship Theme Icon
...He and his former classmates Kropp, Müller, and Kemmerich trained under the command of Corporal Himmelstoss, who forced them to do humiliating chores and endure rough punishments. Though the soldiers hated... (full context)
Chapter 3
Survival Theme Icon
The Lost Generation Theme Icon
Comradeship Theme Icon
...experiences as new recruits in the training camp. Kropp reminds them of their training corporal Himmelstoss’s favorite drill, which required the men to repeatedly practice how they would change trains at... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Comradeship Theme Icon
The Hypocrisy of the Older Generation Theme Icon
...grudgingly hands over the last beer to the victorious Kat. Paul is still thinking about Himmelstoss, who was a postman before the war began. When Paul wonders aloud how the man... (full context)
Comradeship Theme Icon
The Hypocrisy of the Older Generation Theme Icon
Suddenly, Tjaden runs up to the men with an announcement: Himmelstoss has been sent to serve on the front. Though none of the men like Himmelstoss,... (full context)
The Horror of Modern War Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Comradeship Theme Icon
The Hypocrisy of the Older Generation Theme Icon
Paul recalls how the men had finally gotten back at Himelstoss after weeks of plotting. One night, they snuck up on him as he walked back... (full context)
Chapter 5
The Horror of Modern War Theme Icon
...around the tin to pick off lice and gossip. Word in the camp is that Himmelstoss, their much-hated former training corporal, has just arrived at the front. Tjaden, who has a... (full context)
The Lost Generation Theme Icon
Comradeship Theme Icon
...have had. Tjaden, when asked what he’d do in peacetime, describes his fantasy of beating Himmelstoss to a pulp. Detering answers that he would simply go on with the harvest. (full context)
The Horror of Modern War Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Himmelstoss appears at the camp and awkwardly approaches the group of men. He is met with... (full context)
The Horror of Modern War Theme Icon
Himmelstoss and a fat sergeant-major look for Tjaden to discipline him. He receives three days of... (full context)
Chapter 6
The Horror of Modern War Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
The Lost Generation Theme Icon
Comradeship Theme Icon
The Hypocrisy of the Older Generation Theme Icon
...and Paul notices that their faces have the expressionlessness of dead children. Paul comes across Himmelstoss cowering in a trench, pretending to be injured. He yells at Himmelstoss, but the officer... (full context)
Chapter 7
Comradeship Theme Icon
...reorganize and accommodate more than 100 reinforcements. As the men relax during their time off, Himmelstoss, shaken by his time in the trenches, approaches the group and tries to make amends.... (full context)