All Quiet on the Western Front

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Kemmerich’s Boots Symbol Analysis

Kemmerich’s Boots Symbol Icon
When Paul, Müller, and Albert visit Kemmerich in the hospital, Müller is more concerned with getting Kemmerich’s boots than comforting Kemmerich. Müller, Paul points out, is not being rude: the war requires that soldiers abandon social niceties and think realistically about their own interests. Even the hospital orderlies have their eyes on Kemmerich’s boots. The boots command as much, if not more, respect and attention than the man to whom they belong, and in this way symbolize the cheapness of human life in the war.

Kemmerich’s Boots Quotes in All Quiet on the Western Front

The All Quiet on the Western Front quotes below all refer to the symbol of Kemmerich’s Boots. 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

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.

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Kemmerich’s Boots Symbol Timeline in All Quiet on the Western Front

The timeline below shows where the symbol Kemmerich’s Boots appears in All Quiet on the Western Front. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
The Horror of Modern War Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Comradeship Theme Icon
...divide up his possessions. Müller tries to persuade Kemmerich to give them his beautiful leather boots, but Kemmerich resists. Eventually, Paul steps on Muller’s foot, getting him to drop the subject. (full context)
Chapter 4
Survival Theme Icon
Comradeship Theme Icon
...The usually moody Muller is in particularly good spirits, as he is wearing the new boots he has inherited from their dead friend Kemmerich. (full context)
Chapter 11
The Horror of Modern War Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Comradeship Theme Icon
...is conscious of his intense suffering. Before dying, Müller gives Paul his pocket-book and his boots—the very same boots that once belonged to Kemmerich. Paul promises that once he dies, the... (full context)