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All Quiet on the Western Front | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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In All Quiet on the Western Front, Chapter 3 what does Katczinsky mean when he says, "we are losing the war because we can salute too well"?

Katczinsky Stanislaus refers to the disconnection that exists between the obsession with military code and conduct and the actual events of war. Much of the soldiers' training in the formalities of military code and conduct doesn't help them in battle. Instead, it creates the illusion that the military is in control if instructions and duties are being followed by its soldiers. Once the soldiers experience the brutality of the front line and learn that they must rely on instinct to survive, they realize that the drills and exercises in boot camp did not prepare them for the realities of fighting. All formalities, such as saluting, are dropped while on the front line, as basic survival skills overtake everything else. This focus on appearances, however, is hollow for the soldiers, who are forced to do things like give back their new uniforms and put on their old, dirty ones in Chapter 9 after the Kaiser comes to inspect them. The overemphasis on military code and conduct has even more serious repercussions because it provides a massive distraction from the devastating casualties and death toll that the war produces, as well as from its terrible psychological effect on the soldiers.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Chapter 7 why does Paul Bäumer regret going home on leave?

Although Paul Bäumer initially looks forward to going home and seeing his family during leave, he quickly grows agitated and alienated due to his inability to relate his experiences at war to his family. Paul has been busy surviving, but once he returns home he must confront the fact that war has fundamentally changed him. The things that once brought him joy and solace—such as his books—now strike him as hollow and meaningless. It's not until Paul faces the contrast of civilian life that he is truly confronted with how brutal and horrifying his existence on the front is, as well as the fact that no one other than his comrades can understand. Back at home, Paul has too much time to think, and as he notes early in the chapter, "terror [...] kills, if a man thinks about it."

In All Quiet on the Western Front, how do Paul Bäumer's opinions of the enemy shift after he guards the Russian prisoners?

Paul Bäumer develops empathy for the Russian prisoners when he guards them and is able to closely observe their suffering They are so hungry that they are begging for food and searching the German soldiers' garbage tins for scraps of food, and many have become sick with dysentery. It dawns on Paul that the Russians are just regular men like him with hometowns and friends and families. The German and Russian soldiers consider each other enemies because they are commanded to do so by their superiors, but those same superiors could just as easily have commanded them to be allies. This is when Paul begins to see that the real enemies might be the ones giving the commands, not the Russian prisoners or other soldiers on the opposing side of the war. When he listens to the Russian prisoners play music and sing together, he realizes the universality of what they have in common and that he could just as easily been friends with them as an enemy.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Chapter 9 what does his treatment of Gerard Duval, the French soldier reveal about Paul Bäumer's character?

In Chapter 9, Paul Bäumer must directly confront his face-to-face killing of another soldier. Up until this point, the machinery of World War I has rendered death impersonal due to its reliance on shelling and gassing soldiers from a distance. But when a French soldier falls into Paul's shell hole, Paul stabs him with a knife to protect himself. The man doesn't die instantly, and so Paul must watch him bleed and suffer only a few feet away for him for nearly a day. Seeing the man's death up close humanizes the French soldier in Paul's eyes, and he begins to feel deep compassion for the man and sorrow for killing him. He even speaks directly to Duval's corpse, assuring him he will contact his family. His reaction shows that Paul still has humanity and empathy, and that the war hasn't entirely deadened his emotions. However, Paul's response to this situation shows that he is deeply torn between his emotions and the need to repress them. When Paul discovers Duval's actual name, he begins to absorb aspects of Duval's identity in order "to live only for his sake and his family." He looks at Duval's family photographs, reads his letters, and decides to become a printer like Duval. But Paul changes his mind because the situation is too much for him to bear. "'I will fulfill everything, everything I have promised you—but already I know I cannot do so."

In All Quiet on the Western Front, in what ways are Paul Bäumer and his friends part of the Lost Generation?

As the war progresses, Paul Bäumer and his comrades begin to feel increasingly detached and alienated from both their former lives and their futures. The Lost Generation were considered to be veterans of World War I who either died in the war or came back from it forever lost and disconnected, aimless and adrift. The anxiety that Paul and his friends feel about their futures illuminates the fact that their war experience has ensured that they will have a difficult time fitting into civilian life and leading conventional adult lives. Nowhere will feel like home, and they have little of their old lives to return to that can sustain them.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, what effect does the Kaiser's visit have on Paul Bäumer and his friends?

In Chapter 9, the Kaiser's visit causes a great flurry of excitement and anticipation in Paul Bäumer's company. The soldiers are given new uniforms to wear, and must show off their drills to reflect their national pride. Yet Paul and his friends are underwhelmed by the Kaiser's voice and appearance. They expected him to be a large and "powerfully built" man with a "thundering voice," but find that he lacks these attributes. His visit also inspires the men to muse on those who have the most power in war, men such as the Kaiser. It makes them realize that those with the most power rarely do the actual fighting in war and that men on both sides of a conflict are given the same instructions to protect their homeland as best they can. After the Kaiser leaves and the soldiers are forced to change back into their old, dirty uniforms, it drives home the point that the Kaiser's visit was for show, and that it was all an illusion to maintain the fiction of national pride in order to fuel the war and the soldiers' participation in it.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, how do Paul Bäumer and his friends' opinions of men like their teacher Kantorek change?

Before the war, Paul Bäumer and his friends looked up to men like their high school teacher Kantorek, who seemed full of knowledge and ideals about patriotism and duty. Kantorek was a mentor to them, and his students took his advice seriously. But as Paul and his friends begin to realize that the realities of the war are far different from what Kantorek told them, they lose faith in and come to resent their former mentor. Paul can't help but feel scornful of all the adult civilian men he encounters on his leave home, who offer him similarly ignorant opinions about how he should be fighting the war and how it will end. In Chapter 7, when Kantorek reappears after being called up as a soldier himself, Paul delights in the way Mittelstaedt, another of Kantorek's former students, ridicules and humiliates Kantorek. He uses Kantorek's own words against him and makes him perform absurd, exhausting military exercises.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, what is the significance of the soldiers' visit to the French women across the canal?

Much of the experience Paul Bäumer and his comrades have had with women has been in army brothels, where men pay for sexual companionship. When they visit the French women in Chapter 7, they are without their uniforms and guns and "leave [their] boots at the door." They give themselves over to the experience of being with the women. Paul finds some fleeting comfort in the arms of a brunette but leaves feeling unsatisfied. At first, Paul is excited that the French women seem genuinely interested in him and his comrades, but he realizes that their interactions are based on a mutually beneficial trade: the men bring food, and in exchange, the women keep them company. As with other forms of bartering during the war, practicality trumps emotion. The brunette that Paul spends time with is not interested in him as a person but views him as an abstraction, idealizing him because he is a soldier; this realization makes him feel hollow and lonely. He wonders if, at age 20, he will ever experience real love or if the war has ruined it for him.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Chapter 4 how does the mood and atmosphere change as the soldiers reach the front?

It takes three full chapters showcasing the lives of the soldiers in their camp before they finally go to battle in Chapter 4. As they head to the front lines, Paul Bäumer observes that "our faces are neither paler nor more flushed than usual; they are not more tense—and yet they are changed." In preparation for battle, the men must rely on their animal instinct, shutting off their thoughts and emotions so that they can stay sharp and survive. They must be able to anticipate every shell and bullet. This shift in their mentality causes a shift in the mood and atmosphere of the novel, which grows tense and acute.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, how does Katczinsky's relationship to Paul Bäumer differ from Paul's relationship with the other soldiers?

Most of Paul Bäumer's fellow soldiers in his company were formerly his school friends—they are all about the same age and have similar upbringings and life experiences. Even though Paul feels that the war has aged them prematurely, the young men never got to establish themselves as adults with families and careers of their own before they joined the war. Katczinsky, on the other hand, is nearly 20 years older than Paul and his friends. He is an established adult who had a successful career as a shoemaker. His maturity and life experience makes him skilled at finding rations and supplies for the soldiers, who respect and admire his resourcefulness. He often offers the most thoughtful critiques of the war. Katczinsky is closer to Paul than any of the other soldiers. In many ways, he becomes Paul's mentor, sharing his philosophy about the war with him. Their bond is so strong that Paul considers Katczinsky closer to him than a brother, despite realizing that they would never have had the occasion to be friends outside of the war. Katczinsky's death in Chapter 11 is particularly shattering for Paul, who is left completely alone as a result.

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