All Quiet on the Western Front Summary

Erich Maria Remarque

All Quiet on the Western Front

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All Quiet on the Western Front Summary

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All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel set during World War I. Written by Erich Maria Remarque, the novel is a unique look at the reality of war, specifically trench warfare. The novel’s protagonist is a German solider, which gives those on the opposing side a distinctive look into their enemy’s point of view. The novel delves into questions of what makes an enemy and what it takes for a soldier to dehumanize his opponent.

The novel introduces the protagonist, Paul Bäumer, as he is on the German line of the Western Front in the summer of 1916. He has just returned from battle and is eating a bountiful meal, for once—only 80 men of 150 have returned from battle. He is beginning to question the wisdom of his former schoolteacher, who encouraged Paul and his friends to join the army. The battlefront has been a cruel and harsh place and Paul has watched many of his comrades die. War no longer seems like a place to find glory. Paul visits one of his friends, Kemmerich, who is injured and dying. Kemmerich’s leg was gangrenous and so had to be amputated. Paul’s friend Müller asks Paul to take Kemmerich’s boots for him, as he will no longer need them. Once Kemmerich dies, Paul obliges.  Paul does not think badly of Müller for this request. He is aware that war oftentimes makes people detach from normal feelings. Paul simply thinks that Müller is making a logical decision.

Paul introduces a few people with whom he interacts. 40-year-old Kat is respected in the company because he has good instincts. Corporal Himmelstoss is a former postman whose cruelty has influenced Paul’s negative attitude towards war. New soldiers arrive on the Front to replace those lost. Everyone eats a good meal and the soldiers discuss how unfair the war is. Soldiers fight wars for disagreements between a few powerful men, their teachers teach them propaganda, and some other soldiers take advantage of their newly-found authority. The men find out that the hated Himmelstoss has come to join the front.

The men go out into the front on a dangerous mission to lay barbed wire. Shells blitz the men as they lay the barbed wire. On their way back to safety, they hide in a graveyard, removing the corpses in order to hide in their coffins for safety. Once the soldiers return to camp, Himmelstoss accosts them and barks orders, but the men rebuff him. The men are later brought to a field judge, who informs Himmelstoss his actions are petty and unnecessary on the Front. The men receive a small punishment for disrespecting a higher-ranking officer. The men are able to celebrate after finding a goose inside a nearby house. They roast the goose and eat it for dinner.

The celebration does not last long as they are soon caught in a battle with Allied (and therefore enemy) infantrymen. Some of the new recruits are quickly blown away and Paul thinks to himself how he and his comrades have to rely on animal instinct to survive. After this battle, only 32 have survived out of 80, and the men are given a short reprieve. They use this time to swim and cook sausages, the latter of which attracts a group of hungry French girls. They agree to trade their food for company. Paul wishes he could get some more innocent enjoyment from spending time with girls, but he is unable to.

Paul receives temporary leave and visits home. There, he finds his mother is sick with cancer and his father wants to be regaled with tales of war. Paul feels even further detached from his family because of the terrible things he has seen. Paul visits Kemmerich’s mother and lies to her, telling her that her son died peacefully and without pain. Paul also discovers that his former teacher—the man who convinced him to join the war—has become a soldier himself, which gives Paul a sense of grim satisfaction. When Paul is on his way back to the Front, he is sent to training next to a prisoner of war camp. There, he is confronted by Russian prisoners, who are unexpectedly humanized in his eyes. He gives them some food his mother sent back with him and contemplates how war can turn innocent people against each other.

Back on the Front, the men prepare for battle. The Kaiser visits the front and Paul is surprised at how short and soft voiced he is. The men march on to battle, where Paul is separated and has to hide in an abandoned shell hole. A French solider also jumps in and Paul instinctively stabs him to death. Paul regrets this action, especially after going through the French soldier’s things and discovering the soldier had a family. When he goes back to camp, the men try to comfort him.

The soldiers are sent to evacuate a Russian village. Paul, his friend Kropp, and other soldiers are wounded in the process and sent to the hospital. Once there, Paul’s leg is put in a splint and Kropp has to have his leg amputated. Once Paul is able to walk again, he is sent back to the Front. Paul questions the point of war even more as resources dwindle. Paul’s friends steadily die on the battlefield. His friend Detering attempts to desert but is caught. Müller is shot and dies. Kat is shot in the leg and Paul carries him back to the camp. Along the way, he realizes Kat has been shot in the head while being carried and is dead. Eventually, Paul is the last man among his group of friends still alive. He prays for the war to be over, but wonders if he will be normal during peacetime.  During a calm day with little fighting, Paul is killed. The novel remarks that Paul’s face in death seems relieved that for him, the war is over.