All Quiet on the Western Front

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The Hypocrisy of the Older Generation Theme Analysis

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.
The Hypocrisy of the Older Generation Theme Icon

When war broke out in 1914, many Germans viewed the conflict as an opportunity for Germany to prove her superior military strength. Young men were expected to support the national cause by signing up for active duty. These soldiers were volunteers in theory only, Paul says. The reality was that most had no say in the matter. Under immense pressure from parents, teachers, and politicians, young men had to enlist or risk being accused of cowardice. One of Paul’s teachers, a patriotic older man named Kantorek, even marched his class down to the local recruitment office to volunteer.

Paul feels that these authority figures deceived his generation, filling their heads with romantic ideas about patriotism but failing to prepare them for the horrors of battle. He is disgusted by the hypocrisy of those who preach the virtues of sacrifice, yet are content to let other men die in their place. Even when it has become obvious that Germany cannot win, those in power stubbornly prolong the war, blinded by greed and pride.

The Hypocrisy of the Older Generation ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Hypocrisy of the Older Generation 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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The Hypocrisy of the Older Generation 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 The Hypocrisy of the Older Generation.
Chapter 1 Quotes

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.

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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 7 Quotes

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.

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.