All Quiet on the Western Front

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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 1 Quotes

This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.

Page Number: v
Explanation and Analysis:

At the novel’s onset, the narrator frames the way the reader should receive the content. He presents it as a primarily factual story.

These lines serve to preempt any expectations about the impetus for or message of the novel. One might expect a war novel to be an “accusation” against own one’s government or an enemy government; or perhaps a “confession” recounting the crimes the narrator has committed. To expect an “adventure” would be to assume that the narrator aggrandizes the events he recounts—another turn foreseeable in a war story. Yet the narrator denies the value of seeing experiences in this epic light, claiming that death is an adventure only in the gaze of an external observer—not the one who has actually spent time in war. Promising to “simply tell of a generation of men,” he ultimately rejects each of these conventions for a non-political and deeply realist style.

Beyond prefiguring the style of the novel, these lines also offer keen insight into the content of the text: the inner psychology of those who fought in the war. Once more, a reader may arrive with expectations that the novel will focus on the battles and successes—which Remarque epitomizes as “its shells”—but this text is less concerned with physical pain than with mental distress. Thus its realism is an explicitly psychological and interior one, ultimately concerned with the way that a set of traumatic events transformed the human mind.


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There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best—in a way that cost them nothing. And that is why they let us down so badly. For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress—to the future…The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker), Kantorek
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul recounts how he and his schoolmates entered the army through the provocations of a teacher named Kantorek. This memory spurs a reflection on the way that many other young men were recruited to the army.

The story of Kantorek addresses an essential question in the organization of war efforts: how youth are recruited to a cause they would otherwise find repulsive. Paul explains that the authority vested in an older schoolteacher allowed Kantorek to convince them that “progress” and the “future” would be best reached by their joining the army. That is to say, the mentorship role of a teacher granted Kantorek increased his moral and advisory power over his students. Yet Paul is careful to point out that he did not operate with malicious intentions, but rather was certain to be “acting for the best.” Thus the authority power structure is presented not as a group of individual agents acting maliciously, but rather the result of a larger social system of proud, patriotic older men sending younger men to die in wars the older men have started.

That “there were thousands of Kantoreks” speaks to the universality of these soldiers’ experience, presenting the text as a microcosm for what was happening in broader German society. Kantorek's individual character turns first into a “they” and then into “the idea of authority,” growing increasingly broad and representational. Similarly, their small group of soldiers becomes “our generation.” Often Remarque will use phrases like these to broaden the scope of the novel, to transform a single realist tale into an account of a cultural paradigm.

Iron Youth. Youth! We are none of us more than twenty years old. But young? Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Kropp mentions a letter penned by Kantorek calling the student cohort the “Iron Youth.” Paul reacts sarcastically, finding that the term has little relevance for what transpires at the front.

The irony of this phrase stems from how little the terms conform to the soldiers’ actual experience in the army. “Iron” refers to the way their character would remain steadfast and brave in war, yet the soldiers have already found their spirits broken by the psychological and physical toil. The irony of “youth” is a bit trickier to parse, and Paul therefore spells out his reaction. Although they are, by numerical accounts, indeed quite young, the members of the cohort are “old folk” psychologically—for they have by now weathered extreme personal traumas over the course of the war. Paul demonstrates here that this generation was thought to be iron-willed and powerful—able to resist pain and win glory during the war—but notes that these images were ultimately in vain.

More broadly, the passage demonstrates how mismatched the propaganda language of a nation can be from the reality experienced by its citizens and soldiers. Each of these words implies a cultural image rather than a personal reality—and they were used by those like Kantorek to motivate the schoolboys to become soldiers. Remarque’s stringent realism can itself be read as a response to this type of disjointed language—an attempt to recapture simplicity in the face of bombastic, misleading discourse.

Chapter 2 Quotes

Though Müller would be delighted to have Kemmerich's boots, he is really quite as sympathetic as another who could not bear to think of such a thing for grief. He merely sees things clearly…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.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker), Müller, Franz Kemmerich
Related Symbols: Kemmerich’s Boots
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

When Paul goes to the hospital to see Kemmerich, he is told to take the dying man’s boots for Müller. Paul observes that this is not cruel but rather a reasonable and pragmatic response given the soldiers’ circumstances.

Once more, Paul preempts the reader’s potential criticism of the soldiers’ actions. By focusing on the boots, Müller would seem to be violating an important cultural norm of having deference toward the recently-deceased—but Paul contends that he experiences emotions just as much as anyone else. Turning the apparent fault into a virtue, he continues, “He merely sees things clearly”—implying that the pragmatic approach to the boots is in fact better than an overly-sentimental one. Similarly, he casts “considerations” like reverence for the dead as “artificial” and in contrast with “the facts.”

Though one might read this passage as evidence of how extensively a war experience can alter one’s psychology, the language actually presents the soldiers as more aware and more intelligent than those who have not experienced such trauma. Juxtaposing “facts” and “artificial” considerations presents normal social rituals as false constructions—indeed the exact type of lie that initiated the war in the first place. Thus Remarque actually rehabilitates the image of being a soldier, contending that it grants a painful clarity into reality of the world.

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.

Chapter 3 Quotes

If you train a dog to eat potatoes and then afterwards put a piece of meat in front of him, he'll snap at it, it's his nature. And if you give a man a little bit of authority he behaves just the same way, he snaps at it too. The things are precisely the same. In himself man is essentially a beast, only he butters it over like a slice of bread with a little decorum. The army is based on that; one man must always have power over the other.

Related Characters: Stanislaus Katczinsky (speaker)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

As they discuss Himmelstoss’s nature, the soldiers wonder how he could have originally been a mere postman.

Kat explains that his is a fundamental human response to the sudden acquisition of power. Kat presents a model of human nature that is deeply antagonistic and opportunistic. Likening man to a “dog” highlights, already, his animalistic qualities, and he completes the parallelism by saying a man “behaves just the same way.” Himmelstoss’s actions are therefore entirely sensible: he had little access to power as a post-man—the analog for potatoes—but the moment he gained the “meat” of authority in the army, he immediately adapted to the role. For Kat, this logic undergirds the entire structure of the military; it is the way that men, once in roles of power, are able to exercise control despite their background and lord it over others.

What is peculiar about this passage is the way that it does not assign blame to Himmelstoss: We might expect such an abuse of authority to induce criticism from the soldiers, but Kat actually presents his behavior as natural and thus permissible. Saying that “man is essentially a beast” casts displays of power simply as accurate representations of human nature—whereas other social courtesies are just the false “butter” placed on this metaphorical “bread.” Once more, Remarque implies that the soldiers gain better insight into human nature from their war experiences. As a result, they do not morally condemn their superior for his authoritarian practices, but contextualize and rationalize those actions.

Chapter 4 Quotes

At the sound of the first droning of the shells we rush back, in one part of our being, a thousand years. By the animal instinct that is awakened in us we are led and protected. It is not conscious; it is far quicker, much more sure, less fallible, than consciousness. One cannot explain it…It is this other, this second sight in us, that has…saved us, without our knowing how.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker)
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

As the soldiers glimpse the onset of a military attack, Paul describes their psychological transformation. He explains that they become more instinctual and animalistic in moments like these.

Here, we see Remarque attempting to give the reader access to the interior psychology of how it would feel to be on a battlefield. To do so, he describes a process of temporal disjoint, in which the human mind returns “a thousand years” into the past. This sensation of time travel pertains not to the external reality of the soldier, but rather to his evolutionary development—specifically a return to a more primitive, animalistic nature. Paul implicitly divides human psychology here into “conscious” and un-conscious processes: the first controls normal human endeavors, while the second takes control during moments of stress that demand instinctual action.

Although Paul presents the unconscious impulses as animalistic and evolutionarily older, he does not consider these qualities to be entirely negative. Indeed, it is those precise behaviors that “saved” them—without even requiring conscious, careful consideration. Beyond offering a realistic depiction of the mind during battle, then, this passage also rehabilitates a more instinctual type of intellect. Thus Remarque corroborates the idea that the war reveals a deeper reality of human existence without social artifice.

Kat looks around and whispers: "Shouldn't we just take a revolver and put an end to it?"

The youngster will hardly survive the carrying, and at the most he will only last a few days. What he has gone through so far is nothing to what he's in for till he dies. Now he is numb and feels nothing. In an hour he will become one screaming bundle of intolerable pain. Every day that he can live will be a howling torture. And to whom does it matter whether he has them or not—I nod. "Yes, Kat, we ought to put him out of his misery."

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker), Stanislaus Katczinsky (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

When Paul and Kat realize that the new recruit will only live for a short time, they consider what to do. They agree the most ethical choice would be to end his misery by shooting him.

This conversation demonstrates how deeply moral standards can shift in the context of a war. Although normally killing a comrade would be considered awful, the two characters actually decide that it would be the more humane thing to do in this context. Instead of conforming to a normal system of ethics that considers certain actions unacceptable regardless of context, the soldiers adopt a more utilitarian approach to the world: they are willing to engage in otherwise barbaric practices if they would grant a sense of peace to the solider.

Beyond verifying the way that ethics are warped in a war environment, this passage also brings up the question of anonymity in war. When Paul notes, “to whom does it matter” if he lives for additional days, he insinuates that life is primarily meaningful when it is observed and verified by external observers. Yet this young man would be dying without family or friends to validate his pain, or even his existence. Paul therefore contends that human life is itself a factor of social context—a context notably lacking in the anonymous conditions of modern war.

Chapter 5 Quotes

"When I think about it, Albert," I say after a while rolling over on my back, "when I hear the word 'peace-time,' it goes to my head: and if it really came, I think I would do some unimaginable thing—something, you know, that it's worth having lain here in the muck for. But I can't even imagine anything. All I do know is that this business about professions and studies and salaries and so on—it makes me sick, it is and always was disgusting. I don't see anything at all, Albert."

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker), Albert Kropp
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

The soldiers take turns imagining what they would do in peacetime. Whereas others describe extensive fantasies, Paul surprisingly does not idealize that future.

His issue stems from the sense that nothing in the future could potentially justify the pain experienced by “having lain in the muck.” That is to say, Paul imagines that any post-war world would have to be miraculous enough to compensate for the pain the soldiers are currently experiencing in the trenches. So when he “can’t even imagine anything” that would measure up to that desire, he feels a corresponding disillusionment with what that future would offer. His issue, in particular, is with the professional options that would be available—which Paul sees as a bureaucratic morass of “business about professions and studies and salaries.” After the intense, pragmatic reality of the war these social conventions seem paltry and artificial.

Though Paul presents this idea as an individual contention with his future, it also speaks to a broader societal disillusionment. One of the critical justifications for wars is that they will, in the long term, bring about preferable post-war conditions—that the soldiers are fighting for a better future: a utopia that lies beyond the trenches. By denying the idea that the future would be such a utopia, Paul is implicitly negating the merit of the war itself. He is thus voicing a developing sense among soldiers that not only was the experience of battling deeply disturbing, but also that the ends reached by the war would themselves be no more noble than before, and could never justify the means of reaching them.

We sit opposite one another, Kat and I, two soldiers in shabby coats, cooking a goose in the middle of the night. We don't talk much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have. 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…What does he know of me or I of him? formerly we should not have had a single thought in common--now we sit with a goose between us and feel in unison, are so intimate that we do not even speak.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker), Stanislaus Katczinsky
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

While Kat and Paul roast their captured geese, Paul expresses a deep sense of connection to his comrade. He notes that the conditions of war have brought them together in a profound way.

This passage returns to the theme of comradeship in the novel—and how one the war’s only redeemable aspect is the way it forges close connections between the soldiers. What is unique about Paul and Kat's interaction here is that it requires little verbal communication and no common background. Saying, “formerly we should not have had a single thought in common,” Paul emphasizes the very divergent backgrounds of the two characters—which are somehow transcended by their involvement in the war. Without other artifacts of social artifice, the sole presence of a “goose” is sufficient to connect them.

Remarque emphasizes the characters’ departure from normal societal norms with repeated references to solitude, abstraction, and darkness. Paul does not not see himself and Kat as true individuals but rather as “two men, two minute sparks of life”—general representations of humanity that stand in front of “the night and the circle of death.” Though this image is frightening, it also provides the necessary conditions for them to connect. For “communion,” in such a context, can form from the simplest and most universal experience of sharing a meal.

A little soldier and a clear voice, and if anyone were to caress him he would hardly understand, this soldier with the big boots and the shut heart, who marches because he is wearing big boots, and has forgotten all else but marching. Beyond the sky-line is a country with flowers, lying so still that he would like to weep. There are sights there that he has not forgotten, because he never possessed them—perplexing, yet lost to him. Are not his twenty summers there?

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker)
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul stops considering the specific lives of soldiers he knows and instead ruminates on the general idea of a soldier. He points out how they march routinely and without any regard for their future or past.

This image presents soldiers as mechanical and thus unaware of their surroundings. That he is resistant to the comfort of a “caress” because he “has forgotten all else but marching” demonstrates that the routine operations of the war have hindered his ability to receive human affection. Hope lies, for this soldier, in potentially seeing “a country with flowers”—a beautiful setting that would reinvigorate the emotion in his life (or break his heart and make him "weep"). That Paul considers “his twenty summers” to be in that metaphorical field presents it as a receptacle for the years that have been stolen by the war. In this way, he imagines the generation to have become mechanized by the events that transpire, but also to hold within them the capacity to regain lost emotions.

Remarque deviates from his normally realist style in this passage to shift to a more allegorical register. Though the reflection on “a little soldier” is induced by an interaction with a specific person, the descriptions apply to a more generic warrior. Thus what would otherwise refer just to one person instead becomes a diagnosis of a generation.

Chapter 6 Quotes

It is just as much a matter of chance that I am still alive as that I might have been hit. In a bombproof dug-out I may be smashed to atoms and in the open may survive ten hours' bombardment unscathed. No soldier outlives a thousand chances. But every soldier believes in Chance and trusts his luck

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker)
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

While on the front, Paul reflects on how his life is dictated by randomness. He is deeply pragmatic but also continues to believe in a form of fate.

Though the reader might assume that arriving on the front would bring great fear to the soldiers, Paul points out that the danger they experience there is not dissimilar to that felt at other military moments. Ignoring statistical methods of comparison, he examines individual anecdotes, observing that a “bombproof dug-out” does not grant complete protection, just as being “in the open” does not signal one for death. Each moment is instead taken to be one of the “thousand chances” that will eventually cumulate to make death highly probable. Here, then, Paul adopts a more scientific or statistical view of events—until he switches gears in the final sentence.

Saying, “But every soldier believes in Chance and trusts his luck” contains two layered points: Paul simultaneously expresses disdain or distance from viewpoints that adhere to faith, while also implicitly grouping himself in the “every soldier” cohort that holds these views. Thus he points out how one can hold a set of seemingly contradictory opinions on death and chance—believing in statistical accuracy at the same time as adhering to fate.

We could never regain the old intimacy with those scenes. It was not any recognition of their beauty and their significance that attracted us, but the communion, the feeling of a comradeship with the things and events of our existence, which cut us off and made the world of our parents a thing incomprehensible to us—for then we surrendered ourselves to events and were lost in them, and the least little thing was enough to carry us down the stream of eternity.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker)
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

While on sentry duty, Paul has a set of visions from his childhood. He describes the gulf between his current experience and those memories.

These reflections build on Paul’s earlier image of the marching soldier: Just as that character was separated from twenty years of emotional memories, Paul’s cohort is severed from “the old intimacy” with childhood experiences. They feel this distance from both their more innocent youth and from the pre-war society that cultivated those innocent experiences. The effect of the war is to cause Paul and the other soldiers to lose contact with that innocence.

Yet Paul makes clear that the attraction to those memories is not induced by the specific content of the memories themselves, but rather by the feeling of coherence in identity they create. In desiring “the feeling of a comradeship,” he brings up the motif of communion that has pervaded the novel so far, but applies it to coherence within a single person. That is to say, Paul has felt his life to be broken into discontinuous pieces, in which the current moment of the war causes him to have “surrendered” to the present. Remarque thus points out how it is the emotional distance from one’s past that induces a war-torn identity crisis.

We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial—I believe we are lost.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker)
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul continues reflecting on his childhood. He reiterates how deeply his generation has been fractured by the events of the war.

This description returns to the paradox of the soldiers’ age, as once more Paul references both their youthful qualities and their burdens of experience. That they are “forlorn like children” speaks to a juvenile helplessness and despondency in the face of the war, while being “experienced like old men” affirms both the wisdom and the trauma they have gained while serving. Extending the contrasting terms, Paul says they, “are crude and sorrowful and superficial”: a combination of grizzled, deep emotions and exterior surfaces. In this way, the emotional ages of the soldiers contrast with their physical ones, leading to a disjoint between interior and exterior identities as conditioned by the war.

Yet why do these contrasting sets of qualities give rise to the statement, “I believe we are lost”? Paul seems to imply that in holding opposite sets of characteristics within themselves, the soldiers are deprived of a coherent sense of self. Thus the lost generation is not so much a literally dead or abandoned generation, but rather a psychologically disjointed one, in which paradoxical identities have led to a lack of coherence in the self.

Chapter 7 Quotes

The terror of the front sinks deep down when we turn our backs upon it; we make grim, coarse jests about it, when a man dies, then we say he has nipped off his turd, and so we speak of everything; that keeps us from going mad; as long as we take it that way we maintain our own resistance.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker)
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

As he prepares to go on leave, Paul ponders the behaviors that soldiers tend to take up when they leave the front. He observes that the humor others perceive as characteristic of soldiers is a defense mechanism for dealing with the horrors of war.

Characteristically, Paul responds to and denies a reader’s expectation of why soldiers behave in a certain way. We might assume that leaves offer solace from the front—and that the soldiers' humor therefore reflects that joy. But Paul explains that a leave only causes “the terror of the front” to become more poignant and painful, for it throws into relief the horrors just experienced. Humor becomes, then, a way for the soldiers to sterilize and to write off their horrific experiences. For instance, using the phrase “nipped off his turd” to refer to a solider’s death misdirects the actual emotional pain of such an event instead toward an adolescent joke. That this behavior “keeps us from going mad” casts it as a psychological need instead of flippant humor, and the emphasis on “resistance” corroborates the heft of the satire. Thus Remarque cautions us from making rapid assessments of a soldier’s personality or idiosyncrasies, and to examine more closely what may be psychologically motivating even something as simple as humor.

On the platform I look round; I know no one among all the people hurrying to and fro. A red-cross sister offers me something to drink. I turn away, she smiles at me too foolishly, so obsessed with her own importance: "Just look, I am giving a soldier coffee!"—She calls me "Comrade," but I will have none of it.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker)
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:

On leave, Paul finds himself uncertain about how to interact with civilians. He is uncomfortable here with the attention he receives because of his uniform and position.

This passage demonstrates how Paul’s war experiences have a detrimental effect on his more "civilian" interactions. Though the red-cross sister’s actions should be taken as a sign of kindness and generosity, Paul receives them only in negative and skeptical terms. That he sees her as“obsessed with her own importance” verifies that his mind has mutated her altruistic behavior into a selfish one. Thus Remarque uses the leave scene to demonstrate the novel’s opening point that the war had induced a deep psychological toll on the characters.

The theme of anonymity resurfaces as well in this passage. Paul’s reaction is partially conditioned by the fact that he knows “no one among all the people.” The sister’s action comes off as fraudulent specifically because of her use of the term “Comrade”—which implies a senseless affiliation and false connection between the two. Thus it is the hypocritical combination of being fundamentally unknown but falsely recognized that causes Paul agitation, as well as the disconnect he feels between himself and all the civilians around him, those who know nothing of his experiences and still think of the war in terms of patriotism and heroism.

I feel excited; but I do not want to be, for that is not right. I want that quiet rapture again. I want to feel the same powerful, nameless urge that I used to feel when I turned to my books. The breath of desire that then arose from the coloured backs of the books, shall fill me again, melt the heavy, dead lump of lead that lies somewhere in me and waken again the impatience of the future, the quick joy in the world of thought, it shall bring back again the lost eagerness of my youth. I sit and wait.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker)
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

While on leave, Paul thinks back on his youthful love of books. He imagines what it would be like to experience that energy when reading once again.

His scene with the books demonstrates how distant the war-torn Paul is from his earlier identity. Remarque emphasizes this point through Paul's off-kilter emotional response to the books: Instead of “the same powerful, nameless urge,” he feels a far simpler sense of being “excited”—a less nuanced and more direct response. What Paul desires, instead, is a psychological sense of quietude and intensity, an emotional reaction that would stimulate him to care more actively about his future. For him, this hope is identified with literature and with youth, two things to which he has become dulled by the war experience.

It is worth pausing on the fact that Paul experienced this poignancy from books. Remarque implies that this novel itself could serve a parallel purpose for the reader, perhaps returning a sense of “the lost eagerness.” This pragmatic or even didactic end to the novel would seem to contrast with Remarque's earlier explanation that it was purely a case of realism. But perhaps the two interpretations can be brought together, in which we see that this text, even in plain realism, presents an aesthetic world more moving than the daily experiences of a soldier.

I ought never to have come here. Out there I was indifferent and often hopeless; I will never be able to be so again. I was a soldier, and now I am nothing but an agony for myself, for my mother, for everything that is so comfortless and without end.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker)
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

As Paul prepares to depart his leave and return to the front, he reflects on the time away. Instead of seeing it as an enjoyable respite, he believes the war has only made home into something oppressive.

The difficulty of Paul’s leave centers on how he has constructed a separate soldier identity on the front. This self was “indifferent and often hopeless”—hardened to the cruel conditions of the war but able to receive them with relatively fewer emotions. He could explain away those feelings as being “a soldier,” but in this new context of home those feelings instead make him “but an agony for myself.” That is to say, they undermine his sense of a coherent identity and instead transform him into an unspecific negative energy.

It is Paul’s social circles, in particular, that condition this self-hating sentiment. For not only is he “an agony for myself” but also for “for my mother”—implying that the familial repercussions are what he finds especially damning. He is unable to fully appreciate the care offered by others and applies negative energy back to them. Indeed, the comforts that he should have felt while at home instead become “so comfortless and without end.” Reentering the safe physical space does not at all serve to reawaken his emotions, but rather points out how extensive the gulf is between these identities. Remarque thus emphasizes how the war constructs a separate soldier-ego, which cannot be reconciled with Paul’s earlier life.

Chapter 8 Quotes

I am frightened: I dare think this way no more. This way lies the abyss. It is not now the time but I will not lose these thoughts, I will keep them, shut them away until the war is ended. My heart beats fast: this is the aim, the great, the sole aim, that I have thought of in the trenches; that I have looked for as the only possibility of existence after this annihilation of all human feeling; this is a task that will make life afterward worthy of these hideous years.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker)
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul expresses empathy toward the toiling Russian soldiers, but he catches himself in the act and resolves to delay these thoughts until after the war has ended.

The fact that Paul feels a need to separate his emotions speaks to the intense psychological requirements of being a soldier in this horrific war. Though he ruminates on the humanity of the Russian soldiers in a compelling way, he notices that those thoughts will not fulfill a pragmatic purpose in the war and thus they will lead him toward “the abyss.” He demands instead that he “shut them away” and instead fixate on “the sole aim” of the war—which can only view the Russians as enemies to be defeated. Thus Paul must harshly separate his emotions and thoughts in order to stay sane and competent in the war.

Yet despite emphasizing the need for these partitions, Paul also maintains that his conclusion is essential to recall after the war’s end. Indeed, his belief in the Russians’ humanity becomes part of “a task that will make life afterward worthy of these hideous years”—precisely what he had struggled to pinpoint earlier when imagining the post-war conditions. The task, Remarque implies, is concerned with recognizing the arbitrariness of war and thus empathizing with soldiers even from the opposite faction. Paul’s conclusion therefore speaks both to the need to prevent these thoughts in order to survive the war and to the merit they could have in a different world.

Chapter 9 Quotes

Now I hear muffled voices. To judge by the tone that might be Kat talking…These voices, these quiet words, these footsteps in the trench behind me recall me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of death by which I had been almost destroyed. They are more to me than life, these voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear; they are the strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades. I am no longer a shuddering speck of existence, alone in the darkness;—I belong to them and they to me; we all share the same fear and the same life, we are nearer than lovers, in a simpler, a harder way; I could bury my face in them, in these voices, these words that have saved me and will stand by me.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker), Stanislaus Katczinsky
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

During a nighttime patrol, Paul is caught off guard by a bomb and hides alone. Hearing the voices of German soldiers brings him solace and causes him to reflect on the importance of his comrades.

Though Paul has previously described the strong connection he feels to the other soldiers, this passage offers a striking instance of that link. First he cannot make out the speakers, calling them merely “muffled voices”—but then he notes that they are potentially from Kat, an identification that anchors him in a moment of turmoil. In particular, recognizing specific voices restores a sense of identity to Paul, for he returns from “the terrible loneliness and fear of death”: a void of broad forces that do not conform to his specific personality. He finds comfort in these “voices of my comrades,” Remarque indicates, because they help him regain a specific sense of self.

To make this point, Remarque returns to the image of a “speck of existence” contrasting with the wide “darkness” of the world. Previously, Paul had felt solace in being a speck right beside Kat, but here his comradeship actually allows him to escape that narrow definition of life. Instead, the words and bodies of his comrades are fully fleshed-out, a set of complete humans rather than mere light points. Thus Paul’s connection to the other soldiers defines his sense of self in a way that saves him from the solitary void.

This is the first time I have killed with my hands, whom I can see close at hand, whose death is my doing. Kat and Kropp and Müller have experienced it already, when they have hit someone; it happens to many, in hand-to-hand fighting especially— But every gasp lays my heart bare. This dying man has time with him, he has an invisible dagger with which he stabs me: Time and my thoughts.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker), Stanislaus Katczinsky, Müller, Albert Kropp
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

While a cohort of enemy soldiers retreats, Paul stabs one instinctively. He notes that this is the first man he has killed with his own hands.

This experience forces Paul to confront the violence inherent in the war for the first time. Nesting the clause, “whose death is my doing” under the statement “this is the first time” may strike the reader as odd—for Paul has certainly been responsible for death before. Yet this is the first time that that action has taken place directly in front of his eyes. Previous acts on the front have not required direct confrontation with another human. In this way, Paul realizes that he associates culpability not with actual violence but instead with perceived and proximal violence.

Beyond emphasizing the distancing, desensitizing effects of this anonymous and horrifying war, this passage affirms Paul’s deep capacity for empathy. He feels a reciprocal emotional pain for the dying man: His “gasp” affects Paul’s heart; his “invisible dagger” is a parallel weapon applied to his mental state (“thoughts”) and temporal existence (“time”). In this way, Remarque verifies the way that Paul feels an intense emotional response to the other soldiers. Though he may seek to repress this impulse in order to be an operational soldier and stay sane amidst the violence of war, the moments in which it arises are deeply affecting.

"Comrade, I did not want to kill you…But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction…now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship…Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert. Take twenty years of my life, comrade, and stand up—take more, for I do not know what I can even attempt to do with it now."

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker), Gérard Duval
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul finds the pocketbook of the dying soldier and learns more about his identity. He reckons with the way this new knowledge increases his feelings of guilt.

Once more, Remarque reveals a deep empathetic capacity hidden within Paul. Whereas before, Paul viewed the soldier as “an abstraction,” learning these facts about his identity has turned him into “a man like me.” Thus specific information has given him not only an individual human role, but more directly a deep similarity to Paul. This shift in perspective alters the objects on which Paul focuses, from the accoutrements of war instead toward his relationships and even a potential connection between the two: “our fellowship.” Extrapolating a feeling of comradeship is particularly significant considering how Paul has previously described the deep meaning he feels from his relationships with other soldiers on his own side.

Though this passage focuses on a single interaction, it also carries a broader social critique. That Paul asks, “Why do they never tell us,” posits an overseeing force that obscures human information on other soldiers and that takes on a censoring role. The implication is that he “could be my brother” if only different streams of information made his full identity more available to Paul. Thus the comradeship that Paul finds with his fellow soldiers is shown to be, in part, a social construction from larger forces wishing to divide groups of individuals.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Thus we live a closed, hard existence of the utmost superficiality, and rarely does an incident strike out a spark. But then unexpectedly a flame of grievous and terrible yearning flares up.

Those are the dangerous moments. They show us that the adjustment is only artificial, that it is not simple rest, but sharpest struggle for rest.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker)
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:

Ruminating on the abstract condition of being a soldier, Paul points out the paradoxical nature of his unit’s existence. To survive, they must focus on purely pragmatic concerns, but they also encounter occasional intense moments that reveal great emotional depths they otherwise try to ignore.

Paul divides the soldiers’ lives into two distinct psychological experiences: the first is the set of practical concerns focused solely on staying alive, while the second is a more intense, emotional relationship to the self and world. Casting the first as “utmost superficiality” might seem to trivialize it, but Paul actually regards the poignant experiences as the negative ones: “Those are the dangerous moments” because they distract the soldiers from the external concerns that must take precedence in war, and can easily lead them to despair or madness.

That Paul sees the pragmatic existence as “artificial” is thus not to be taken as a negative assessment. Rather, he sees pragmatics as a necessary lie for the group to tell themselves in order to survive and stay sane. It may not be “simple rest” but it is a necessary “struggle” to eventually approach that state. In this way, Paul revises the earlier criticism of split human psychology: He affirms his two-part existence but here contends that it is necessary given the situation.

Chapter 12 Quotes

And men will not understand us—for the generation that grew up before us, though it has passed these years with us already had a home and a calling; now it will return to its old occupations, and the war will be forgotten—and the generation that has grown up after us will be strange to us and push us aside. We will be superfluous even to ourselves, we will grow older, a few will adapt themselves, some others will merely submit, and most will be bewildered;—the years will pass by and in the end we shall fall into ruin.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer (speaker)
Page Number: 294
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul fantasizes about returning home after the war has ended. He reminds himself, however, that those whom he returns to will be unable to understand what the experience had meant to him.

These reflections return to the motif of the "lost generation" to which Paul belongs. Those in the older generation were firmly anchored in their lives before the war began, and those in the newer one will have been too young to have experienced the hardships of war. As a result, Paul reasons, neither side will be able to make sense of the soldiers’ memories or identities. Not only will they be pushed aside by these generations, but they will “be superfluous even to ourselves”—socially unnecessary, misunderstood, and suffering from the effects of trauma and existential despair. The deep irony, here, is that they were integral to society during the war, but the exact skills needed in that moment will render them irrelevant in peacetime.

It is worth noting that Paul himself will never experience this fate, for he dies in the novel before the arrival of peacetime. The technique of placing these thoughts in his protagonist’s mind is another example of how Remarque transforms an anecdotal tale into a broader reflection on the generation. For Paul is predicting a broad social fate that he himself will never witness.

He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front. He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.

Related Characters: Paul Bäumer
Page Number: 296
Explanation and Analysis:

In the novel’s final scene, a third person narrator recounts a soldier’s death. The unnamed man passes unexpectedly and peacefully.

This passage marks a stark shift from the narrative style of the rest of the novel. It departs quite suddenly from Paul’s first-person narration to enter the mind of an unknown external observer. Its tone begins as efficient and unemotional, mimicking the “army report” it mentions, until the last sentence introduces a more poetic perspective. In particular, the phrase “as though” presents a creative mind regarding the body, attributing emotions and thoughts to the vacant scene. One could imagine this to be the perspective of the person who discovered the soldier, or perhaps that of Remarque himself.

Indeed, this passages epitomizes the mix of emotional distance and proximity that occurs throughout the novel. That the army report encapsulates the soldier’s death in one sentence would speak, generally, to the way that military service reduces the complexity of human life to a simple set of data. But by making that sentence the very title of this novel, Remarque presents his own text as an attempt to restore complexity and value to a single soldier’s life: to expand the aphoristic line into a full, realistic, human story.

While it is obviously tempting to assume this soldier is Paul, Remarque notably refers to the soldier only as a general “he.” Here, we see Remarque bringing together several of the thematic developments of war's anonymity. Paul is dehumanized through the distanced tone of the narrator and the army report, yet that same incognito quality also makes him a literary symbol, a microcosm of what it would have meant to fight in World War I. Thus Remarque concludes the novel by both turning Paul into a universal type and critiquing that exact process. He simultaneously makes Paul stand for the lost generation and demands that the reader examine, through the realist apparatus of the novel, an intricate and deeply singular character.

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