90 pages • 3 hours readErich Maria Remarque
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From the very beginning of the novel, hunger and the scarcity of good food is a motif that runs almost all the way to the end. The lack of nutritious, high-energy food is an ongoing problem whether the men are at the front or whether they are on some other duty. In fact, the severity of inadequate amounts and quality of food increases soon after the opening sequence in which the men have full bellies and are “satisfied and at peace” (2). At various turns, the men of Paul’s company and the Russian prisoners he guards are in some state of voracious hunger. When they do receive some food, the men become sick, and dysentery is a concern. Paul comments that the wheat growers in Germany are becoming wealthy from the little food the soldiers receive, and this supports the theme “The Hypocrisy of War,” since only the elite who are not fighting find the war advantageous.
In one scene, the men must literally make war with rats to protect what little bread they are afforded. Paul is quick to point out how plump and fat the rats are, an allusion to the sheer overabundance of sustenance made available to the rats by the many dead bodies lying around during prolonged fighting.