All Quiet on the Western Front

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in All Quiet on the Western Front, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Comradeship Theme Icon

For Paul, the one positive aspect of the war experience is that it forges extraordinarily strong bonds between soldiers. The men of the Second Company are comrades-in-arms, closer than family or even lovers. They have seen unspeakable horrors and endured unimaginable suffering together, experiences they will never be able to share with those who did not fight. The war creates sharp distinctions between soldiers and civilians, but it erases other distinctions. Class divisions, for example, are no longer significant: well-educated young men like Paul fight and die alongside peasants like Detering.

Comradeship is such an intense bond that one would expect the death of one soldier to trigger a strong emotional reaction from the others. But grief is a luxury these battle-hardened soldiers cannot afford. Apart from brief outbursts of rage or sorrow, the men are unable to properly mourn their fallen friends. Paul becomes increasingly numb to these losses over the course of the novel, as he watches every single one of his friends die. Paul continues fighting after the death of his last and closest friend, Kat, but he seems to have lost the will to survive. The novel’s final paragraph suggests that Paul accepts and even welcomes his own death.

Comradeship ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Comradeship appears in each chapter of All Quiet on the Western Front. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Comradeship Quotes in All Quiet on the Western Front

Below you will find the important quotes in All Quiet on the Western Front related to the theme of Comradeship.
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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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 5 Quotes

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.

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.