All Quiet on the Western Front | Study Guide

Erich Maria Remarque

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All Quiet on the Western Front | Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

The soldiers begin to lose track of days and weeks, counting time only by season and time spent at the front. Paul Bäumer feels that "it is as though formerly we were coins of different provinces; and now we are melted down, and all bear the same stamp." However, Paul still takes solace in the brotherhood of the soldiers. All their energy goes toward the same goal—survival. The violence and death that surround them feels as common to them as a case of the flu.

Paul tells the story of how Detering deserts from the army. One day on the way back from the front lines, the soldiers encountered a cherry tree. Later that evening they couldn't find Detering, but he returned later with branches of cherry blossoms from the tree. The soldiers laughed at him. Later that night, Paul woke up because he thought he heard Detering packing his things. Paul warned him not to do anything stupid. Two mornings later, Detering disappeared. A week later, the soldiers discovered that he was caught by military police as he headed toward Germany, and the soldiers never heard news of him again.

Another soldier, Berger, meets his end in a different way. Paul recounts that their trenches have all but disintegrated. The soldiers are hiding in a crater while the English attack them. One of the food carriers reports that a wounded messenger dog is lying a few hundred yards away, and Berger goes to find it. The others try to stop him, but Berger is shot and wounded as soon as he leaves the crater.

Fredrich Müller also dies after being shot in the stomach. Before he dies, he gives Paul his wallet and Franz Kemmerich's boots. Paul notes that if he dies, Tjaden will inherit them next. Paul also notices that while the Germans are being forced to fall back, the English and American troops are well fed and well armed. The Germans, however, are starving because the food they are served makes them sick. Their weapons are worn out and don't work right, and the new recruits "understand nothing about warfare." They begin to give up hope that the war will ever end. Leer and their company commander also die during the same attack. Paul drily notes that all the math Leer learned in school was of no use to him here.

Months pass by, and the summer of 1918 is particularly bloody and brutal. The soldiers begin to understand that they are losing the war. They are running out of men and ammunition. Their planes are outnumbered five to one. One day during the summer, a shell strikes Stanislaus "Kat" Katczinsky. Paul tries to bandage his wounds, but Kat is bleeding profusely. Paul tells Kat he is lucky, for who knows how much longer the fighting will go on. They discuss what might happen next. Now that the rest of his friends are dead or gone, Paul knows that Kat is the only friend he has left. Kat might die or go to the hospital, then home. Paul contemplates shooting himself in the foot so that he can leave with Kat.

Paul continues to carry Kat to the infirmary, and when he finally gets there, he sets Kat down, relieved that Kat will be saved. An orderly informs Paul that Kat is dead. Paul refuses to believe it, and tries to convince the orderly that Kat merely fainted and that he was only hit in the shin. But then he sees blood on Kat's head. While Paul was carrying him, Kat must have been hit in the head by a stray splinter. The realization slowly sinks in for Paul that his closest friend is dead.

Analysis

By this point in the story, the soldiers take simple pleasures where they can get them whatever the risk, because it is just as likely that they will die at any time. Paul Bäumer's comparison of the war to a disease shows how commonplace death has become for all of them, as though killing another man is like catching a deadly flu—they will all be infected by it eventually. Paul also compares individual soldiers to coins that have been melted together—the things that bond them are a shared experience of violence and catastrophe.

Paul's story of Detering's escape reveals how the stresses of war are able to drive a soldier to the urge to flee despite the cost. Detering tries to return home to Germany, which is irrational because he will be immediately caught and punished. Paul relates the death of several of his other comrades in a detached, matter-of-fact way. He is glad to inherit Fredrich Müller's boots, and is equally glad to promise Tjaden that he can have them when Paul dies.

The German soldiers despair as they recognize that they are losing the war. Yet they cannot even imagine a different life because the war has consumed them. None of them seem able to believe in the war, yet they continue to fight because they feel they have no alternative. They have begun to give in to the hopelessness of their situation.

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