All Quiet on the Western Front

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The Lost 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 Lost Generation Theme Icon

Though Paul often dreams about his life before the war, he knows that he can never return to it. The war has destroyed an entire generation of young men, leaving them “lost”—physically and psychologically maimed and unable to readjust to their past lives. Even if they manage to survive the trenches, the things they have seen and done there have permanently transformed them. Paul experiences the jarring effects of this transformation most clearly when he briefly returns to his home village on leave. The village has not changed, yet Paul feels completely out of place there. His old interests in literature and art, represented by the shelves of books in his childhood room, now seem childish and unreal. He feels alienated from his father and his former teachers, who expect him to play the role of the heroic young soldier. Only his ailing mother seems to understand his reluctance to discuss what has happened to him—and even she, Paul knows, could not possibly imagine the terrible realities of trench warfare. When his leave ends, Paul is almost relieved to return to the front. His trip home reinforces his conviction that the war has created an unbridgeable divide between the young men who fight and the communities they have left behind.

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The Lost Generation ThemeTracker

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

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

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

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 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.