All Quiet on the Western Front | Study Guide

Erich Maria Remarque

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All Quiet on the Western Front | Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

Back at camp, reinforcements for the soldiers who were killed have arrived, and many are even younger than 19-year-old Paul Bäumer and his comrades, a fact that causes them to feel like "stone-age veterans." Stanislaus "Kat" Katczinsky trains the new reinforcements in the art of trading for coveted items, such as tobacco or vegetables, and Paul notes that Kat is the smartest person he knows, always able to barter for rations or find what they need at a moment's notice.

Kat and Albert Kropp get into a debate about the best way to fight a war. Kat thinks there is too much focus on the formalities and exercises, while Kropp believes that wars should be "a popular festival ... like a bull fight" in which the ministers and generals of each country battle one another in front of an audience ("Whoever survives, his country wins"). The soldiers discuss Corporal Himmelstoss and others of his kind, who seem to change into bullies the minute they earn a stripe or star in the army—they become hungry for power. Paul notes that power is the currency of the military, where someone always seems to be trying to dominate someone else.

Tjaden runs up to them and suddenly announces that Himmelstoss is on his way to their platoon. Tjaden harbors a particular animosity toward Himmelstoss, who humiliated him for wetting his bed. Paul recounts how the soldiers ambushed Himmelstoss the night before they left for the front. They waited for Himmelstoss on a deserted road as he returned from a pub, and quickly threw a bedcover over him so that he could not see them. The soldiers beat him savagely, then ran away after they had their fill.

Analysis

It's significant that Remarque paints a vivid picture of Paul Bäumer's friends and some of the soldiers as individuals with distinct personalities in the first three chapters. Stanislaus "Kat" Katczinsky, for example, is described in Chapter 3 as intelligent and resourceful. He has a particularly useful talent: he is skilled at finding food and supplies in unlikely places. The other soldiers look up to him for this and because he is generous with what he is able to find. These characterizations are also melancholy, however, because in many ways the soldiers must destroy what makes them unique individuals in order to cope with the dehumanizing aspects of the war machine. The war has also put them at war with themselves.

The soldiers' debate about Corporal Himmelstoss and how the war is run reveals how obsessed with rank and power many in the military are. Kat's observation that their commanders focus on the wrong things, such as saluting, is astute, because saluting will not help win the war. Both Kat and Albert Kropp believe that those in power should be the ones who should be held accountable for the war. If ministers and generals were really forced to endure what the soldiers do, they might reconsider their reasons for starting a war to begin with.

It's telling that Paul and his friends have little respect or awe for those giving them instructions in war. Rather than seeing them as heroes, they see them as corrupt enemies. Paul holds up individuals like Kat as the real heroes of the war, because Kat's interest lies mainly in lessening their suffering by finding them food and other things they need. This depiction is a departure from previous war literature which held up self-sacrifice and honor in battle as the true qualities of a hero.

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