All Quiet on the Western Front | Study Guide

Erich Maria Remarque

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All Quiet on the Western Front | Chapter 10 | Summary

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Summary

Paul Bäumer and his comrades finally receive a good assignment, guarding an abandoned village. Paul notes that it provides a rare opportunity to "stretch [their] soul[s]" by temporarily relaxing and enjoying themselves. The soldiers gather all the bedding and food from the abandoned houses, prepare a huge meal, and play songs on a piano they find. However, observation balloons have spotted the smoke from the chimney of the abandoned house in which they are feasting, and opposition forces begin to drop shells on the village. No one is harmed, but they are forced to continue trying to cook while shells come screeching through the windows. They realize that the village will soon be blown to pieces. But for two weeks they are able to eat, drink, and relax in the village without being disturbed again, and they wish they could stay there until the war ends.

However, they are eventually sent to evacuate another village. Its inhabitants are already fleeing, and shelling from the French begins. Albert Kropp is struck above the knee, and he and Paul attempt to hide. Albert tries to lie down, but Paul makes him keep going. Finally, they take cover and realize they are both wounded. A passing ambulance picks them up. They begin to hope their injuries might send them home. Albert decides that if they amputate his leg, he will kill himself, because he "won't go through life as a cripple."

At the hospital, Paul grows nervous because he has heard that surgeons are quick to amputate. He is operated on without anesthesia and endures unbearable pain, but keeps his leg. On the train back, Albert develops a fever and Paul overhears that they are going to take him off at the next stop. In order to stay together, Paul fakes a fever as well. They disembark together and are taken to a hospital. The hospital is comfortable, but they are kept awake by the praying of nuns outside, until one soldier throws a bottle at them. Many soldiers on their ward disappear, never to return. There are rumors that the surgeons are experimenting on soldiers, and Albert's leg is amputated. Albert grows depressed and claims he will shoot himself if he can get hold of a gun.

Paul is overwhelmed by the realization of how many thousands of similar hospitals full of wounded and dying soldiers there must be Germany, France, and Russia. He considers the fact that, though he is still young, all he knows of life is "despair, death, fear." After a few more weeks, Paul's wounds are healed and he goes home to convalesce, and then he is called back to the front lines. He finds it difficult to leave Albert, but notes that "a man gets used to that sort of thing in the army."

Analysis

The scenes among the soldiers in the evacuated village are darkly comedic. Food is especially important to them as a tool of emotional survival and animal comfort. They are so determined to enjoy themselves that they risk life and limb to cook a luxurious meal while shells whiz by them outside. The chance to act normal means too much to their sense of sanity, and each minute they have is precious. The experience gives them a chance to feel some small semblance of humanity, even as the abandoned village is on the brink of being blown to pieces.

The hospital is a location in which the extent of the suffering and injuries caused by the war take on an added dimension for Paul Bäumer, who sees wounded soldiers up close for an extensive amount of time. Many of the men around him are permanently disfigured, and he believes that anyone who supports war should be required to visit these hospitals in order to see the true extent of the damage caused by war. He worries yet again that for him and his generation, returning to civilian life will be impossible given what they have experienced: "Our knowledge of life is limited to death."

The hospital may be comfortable and far from the front lines, but it presents additional challenges to the soldiers who are its patients. Many men make it to the hospital only to die there ("We see many come and go ... They go even faster than the sisters can cope with them"). A blind man tries to stab himself in the heart with a fork in his despair. The patients must also protect themselves against surgeons who see them not as human beings who have suffered, but as opportunities for medical experimentation. Nonetheless, there are moments of humanity as well, such as the case of Peter, a patient who makes a miraculous return from the "Death Room" where he was sent to die. The patients bond together to help another patient, Lewandowski, spend some intimate time with his wife.

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