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All Quiet on the Western Front | Study Guide

Erich Maria Remarque

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All Quiet on the Western Front | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In All Quiet on the Western Front, how is the soldiers' reaction to the dying horses an example of situational irony?

Situational irony occurs when what one expects to happen differs from what actually occurs. The men's reactions to the horses is an example of situational irony because the horses' dying affects the soldiers more deeply than the death of their own comrades. The sounds of dying horses on the front lines in Chapter 4 torments Paul Bäumer and his friends, because they can hear them but cannot go to help them or put them out of their misery without risk of being shot. While they are accustomed to numbing themselves in response to the carnage they witness on the battlefield, the men cannot continue to do so in response to the suffering of the animals, and experience deep empathy for them. Detering points out that, unlike the soldiers, the horses didn't choose to be in the war—they are innocent casualties of it. The soldiers in the war have chosen to be there by enlisting, and therefore are not as innocent as the horses by contrast. Paul observes that the sound of the dying horses is "inendurable, it is the moaning of the world," but the same could be said about the cries of the wounded and dying soldiers in the midst of war. Paul and his comrades can thus acknowledge the suffering of the horses, but have had to become desensitized to the human suffering around them.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, how does nature have a positive effect on Paul Bäumer during the war?

Nature provides one of the few solaces for Paul Bäumer. In Chapter 4, he notes that during battle, "to no man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier." It is the only place to hide, and he considers the earth "his only friend, his brother, his mother," a protective, reliable entity in contrast to the chaos of warfare. Many of the memories that give Paul peace have to do with the nature of his childhood, such as the poplar trees in his town and the river he and his friends played in. He often notices the small, lovely instances of nature amidst the brutality of combat, such as butterflies floating across No Man's Land or the pleasurable sensation of handling grains of sand. The natural world with its living animals, insects, and trees also provides a stark contrast to the destructive mechanization of the war with its shells, machine guns, and gasses.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Chapter 5 what do the soldiers' hopes for their futures reveal about their characters?

The discussion between the soldiers about their futures in Chapter 5 reveals how little of life most of them have already lived because they are so young. Most of their answers reveal immediate cravings, such as women and warm meals. This generation of men was referred to as the "Lost Generation" in the aftermath of World War I, not only for the staggering number of men lost to death but also for the aimlessness they felt upon returning to their civilian lives—their identities were wholly shaped by war. Most of the men's responses reveal their losing struggle to detach from their lives as soldiers. Haie plans to remain in the army because its routines are so familiar to him, revealing that he feels he doesn't know how to do much else. Tjaden hopes to continue to avenge himself against Himmelstoss. He can't conceive of a future much farther than immediate revenge, which is itself another kind of ongoing warfare. Kropp says that he doesn't want to do anything, believing that none of it matters and that the war will likely never end, revealing how disenchanted he has become with the notion of a future. Detering is an exception. He wishes to return to his farm, because he had a job and wife before he joined the war; unlike the others, he eventually becomes a deserter from the army later in the novel.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Chapter 7 what is Paul Bäumer's relationship with his family like?

When Paul Bäumer returns home in Chapter 7 for the first time on leave, his relationship with his family is often strained and complicated by his experience of the war. Upon seeing his sister in his childhood home, he is overcome with emotion and nearly weeps, perhaps feeling safe to experience his pent-up emotions for the first time in a long while, yet he catches himself from revealing too much emotion in front of her. He cannot express his suffering to his mother, either, although she expresses her concern for him. Instead, he is consumed by guilt and worry over how sick his mother has become, and how much she has suffered and gone without in order to provide him with some comforts while he is in the army. Nor can Paul entrust his feelings to his father. Paul is eventually filled with disdain for him as he lectures Paul with his opinions about the war, although he has never experienced combat himself. Paul leaves home feeling conflicted and alienated from the people he was once close to.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Chapter 7 why does Paul Bäumer lie to Kemmerich's mother?

When Paul Bäumer visits Kemmerich's mother in Chapter 7, she begs him to tell her the truth about how her son died. Paul lies, telling her that Kemmerich died instantaneously, when in reality he suffered for weeks in the hospital. She knows Paul is lying, and claims that not knowing is a worse torment than knowing the truth, even if the truth is terrible. Paul doesn't tell her partly out of pity, and partly out of thinking that her knowing is pointless, because she can't change the fact that her son is dead. When Paul withholds the details of Kemmerich's death from his mother, it demonstrates how war has bonded the soldiers together to the exclusion of their families and previous lives. Paul has come to believe that the war is so horrific that his and his comrades' experience of it is ultimately incomprehensible to civilians, but he has been cut off from them in another way, as well. Paul is so desensitized to death, which is a commonplace experience for him and his comrades on the battlefield, that he cannot understand why Kemmerich's mother cannot recognize that "dead is dead" and simply move on emotionally.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, what conclusions do Paul Bäumer and his friends reach about who is responsible for the war?

The men's experience seeing the Kaiser for the first time in Chapter 9 shows how detached and distant those in power are from those who fight and die for their country. The men are unimpressed by him, and it presses upon them the question of what, or who, in fact, they are fighting for, and how the war started. Kropp wonders "whether there would not have been a war if the Kaiser had said no." They begin to realize that soldiers on all sides of the war are fighting for the exact same abstract reasons made up by those in power, which makes it difficult to truly label either side as "good" or "bad"under the circumstances. Katczinsky and Detering also begin to wonder who benefits from the war and why, concluding that national leaders and army generals gain fame and power by inciting war, while soldiers who have little or no power are thoughtlessly sacrificed.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Chapter 10 why does Paul Bäumer conclude that "a hospital alone shows what a war is"?

The hospital takes the men out of the context of the battlefield into a transitional environment between the war and civilian life. In this respect, the hospital environment provides a more extensive opportunity to observe how soldiers succeed or fail to adjust to what has happened to them and to their comrades. It is also more difficult for Paul Bäumer to remain emotionally detached from the wounded and dying when he lives with them in close quarters over a long period of time. In Chapter 10, as Paul recovers in the hospital, he witnesses an even broader spectrum of humanity who have been effected by the war, from soldiers who are permanently disabled to those who may have been operated on as medical experiments to those who do not survive their wounds. There are also hopeful moments, such as the men's attempt to help one of the soldiers spend precious intimate time with his wife. Another patient, Peter, is sent to the Dying Room, but miraculously returns against the odds. However, as Paul observes the humanity of the men around more closely than ever, the notion that anyone can "recover" is questionable. Paul recognizes that the damage the war inflicts is chronic, causing long-term psychological as well as physical effects, even for those who are long out of battle.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, why does Remarque include so many references to food?

From the opening chapter of the novel, food plays a central role for the soldiers. It is one of the only bright spots in their existence. Sharing food often brings people closer together. Paul Bäumer shares the potato cakes and jam he received from his mother with his comrades, and even with the Russian prisoners. To eat is also to experience animal pleasure in one's own body. The soldiers do so to escape the mental and physical torments they experience on the battlefield and to find some satisfaction in an unsatisfactory situation. In Chapter 1, for example, their apparent lack of concern for the fact that their extra rations are due to the loss of half of their comrades in combat shows how desensitized they have become to death. This strange juxtaposition of contentedness amidst death and horror serves as an apt introduction to the stark contrasts of comradeship and despair throughout the novel. It culminates in a meal the soldiers attempt to cook together in Chapter 10 amidst a bombardment, in which they risk their lives to prepare and share a good dinner. As they see it, they haven't much left to lose, because it may be their last. However, as the situation for the Germans is looking grim near the end of the war, their food, along with other supplies, has taken a turn for the worse. Paul reports, "But we are emaciated and starved. Our food is bad and mixed up with so much substitute stuff that it makes us ill." What once nourished them and contributed to their sense of camaraderie is now making them ill, weak, and unable to function effectively as soldiers.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, what is the effect of the line, "We are two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death"?

This observation by Paul Bäumer comes in Chapter 5 as he and Katczinsky are roasting a goose together. In this moment, Paul experiences a deep love and communion with Kat, because they understand each other deeply without needing to say much. The line speaks to the fact that, amidst the chaos and overwhelming amount of death surrounding them, they still have each other and this moment. They have learned to live eternally in the present in this way, for to ponder the future is to risk hope that they can't afford. Paul is also awed by the fact that he and Kat's paths would likely never have crossed if it weren't for the war, and yet here they are "so intimate that we do not even speak." The image presented in the line provides a metaphor about their connection in the face of annihilation.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, why don't the civilians struggle with the war as much as the soldiers do?

The divide between civilians and soldiers widens as the novel progresses. Civilians like Kantorek and Paul Bäumer's father hold many opinions about why it is important to fight the war and how it can be won, but they don't have hands-on experience with its endless carnage and sense of futility. Although the civilians are affected by the war—food is scarce and family members are killed—they simply can't comprehend the war's scope and the specifics of the damage it inflicts. When he returns home on leave, Paul notes how many people in his town are going to their jobs and otherwise conducting their lives as usual. World War I, with its use of machine guns, tanks, gas, and airplanes, is a much different type of war and fighting than previous wars. Civilians—whether through first-hand experience or by reading about previous wars—imagine the fighting to be as it was in previous wars; they cannot conceive of the destruction caused by the new weaponry and methods of fighting that were designed to annihilate rather than kill.

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