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.
Survival Theme Icon

Many of the young soldiers, including Paul, joined the army because they were motivated by romantic ideals like patriotism and honor. On the front, however, they quickly learn that patriotic fervor will not protect them from exploding shells or poison gas. In the trenches, there is only one goal: survival at any cost. Soldiers must be prepared to act unthinkingly in battle, no matter how horrifying these actions might have once seemed. The men revert to animal instinct under fire, suppressing all higher thought. Emotions like pity, grief, or disgust are fatal to the soldier, as they might cause him to hesitate or second-guess himself.

Readers of All Quiet on the Western Front often find Paul’s calm, neutral attitude towards his experiences almost as disturbing as the carnage he describes. As Paul himself explains, however, becoming desensitized to the horror around him is the only way he can keep going. Only rarely is an event traumatic enough to briefly break down these mental barriers—as, for example, when Paul is trapped alone for hours with the body of a French soldier he has killed, or when his best friend Katczinsky (Kat) is killed by a shrapnel fragment.

Survival ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Survival 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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Survival 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 Survival.
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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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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

"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

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.