The whole perception of war can be changed by a single book: All Quiet on the Western Front is such a book; a novel which shines a light on the horrors of war. The author, Erich Maria Remarque, drew on his own experience as an infantryman during the First World War as his inspiration for the novel. Published in 1929, the book sold over one million copies in Germany within its first year. It became even more popular after being translated and published in other countries.
(Pictured is the cover to its first edition.)
The book is written in a strict chronological manner. The plot alternates between battle scenes at the Western Front and places of peace. The author was no doubt attempting to compare and contrast the two types of experiences to make an impact on the reader, which he did quite successfully.
Plot Summary of All Quiet on the Western Front
The story told in, All Quiet on the Western Front is that of a young German soldier named Paul Baumer. The action takes place in the last days of the War, and Remarque chose to write his novel as a first-person account. As a result, it pulls the reader effectively into that time and place.
Paul and his classmates Kropp, Muller, and Leer, decide to join the army after being pressured by their schoolmaster. Kropp is a clear thinker, while Muller is the academic of the group. Leer has the distinction of being the first boy in Baumer’s class to have lost his virginity and can be described as sexually mature.
The opening scenes of the book also introduce the characters of Tjaden, Westhus, and Katczinski (Kat). Kat, at 40, is the oldest of the group. The small group is mainly focused on finding food and cigarettes, and, of course, their homes.
The story describes the group’s basic training at Klosterberg and the sadistic treatment they were subjected to by Corporal Himmelstoss. The group bands together to face a mock enemy, wearing the same uniform as themselves, and are subjected to Himmelstoss’ abuse, eventually taking their revenge. Baumer and his fellow soldiers see death close up when Franz Kemmerich, one of Paul’s friends, dies after having his leg amputated. They are finally sent to the front, where they fight with bayonets, grenades and sharpened shovels.
When Paul returns home on leave, he finds that he has been changed by the sights and sounds of war. He lacks ambition and is unable to find pleasure in activities which he had previously enjoyed.
After the 17-day leave is finished, Paul is sent to a camp on the moors for further training. At this point in the tale, he meets Russian prisoners of war who are reduced to having to scrounge through garbage to avoid starvation. He concludes that the prisoners are pathetic human beings as opposed to adversaries.
When Paul returns to his unit, he feels more comfortable with them than his own family. He is sent out on patrol, where he encounters and fatally wounds Gerard Duval, a French soldier. Even though Paul eventually concludes, “War is war,” he tries to alleviate the man’s suffering as he is dying.
The next experience Paul has during the War is being assigned to the supply depot. In contrast with being on the front, he is well fed and sleeps in a comfortable bed. Paul and his fellow soldier Kropp are both shot while evacuating a village and are transported to St. Vincenz Hospital by train. Paul recovers from his injuries and goes on leave, while Kropp has to have his leg amputated.
The story moves on to the summer of 1918. At this point, the surviving German troops are exhausted and worn down by lack of nutritious food and repeated artillery barrages by the Allies. Paul’s friend Kat is wounded in the shin and as he is being carried to an aid station for treatment, is struck in the head by a piece of shrapnel and is killed.
The story ends with Paul returning to the front after two weeks’ leave to recover from exposure to poisonous gas. The last one of his schoolmates still alive, he meets his end on a quiet day shortly before the armistice to officially end World War I is signed.
Sheldon is a freelance writer and writes for evolutionwriters.com – an online writing company specializing in custom research papers and essays writing services.
Read more about the First World War in World War One: History In An Hour published by Harper Press.