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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 31 - 40


In All Quiet on the Western Front, what tactics do the soldiers employ to keep their wits about them, and why do some of them lose their minds?

The main tactic Paul Bäumer and his comrades employ to stay sane is to keep their emotions at a distance. They are also able to develop a sense of when another soldier is dwelling on the horrors of battle too much, and are able to distract him until his emotions retreat. Once Paul sees some of the younger recruits at the front lines go mad with fear and terror, he realizes the importance of focusing on physical survival rather than getting caught up in emotions. In Chapter 12, a soldier named Berger loses his sanity in the midst of a battle. He insists on walking into the barrage to help a wounded messenger dog, which is a suicide mission. The other soldiers try to stop him but see that he has become "demented." Detering also "goes mad" when he sees cherry trees in blossoms that remind him of home. Shortly afterward, he deserts for Germany and is captured almost immediately. Sentimentality—a feeling of nostalgia or tenderness—triggers each man's irrational actions.

What is the significance of Kemmerich's boots in All Quiet on the Western Front?

Kemmerich's boots are the one link between characters throughout the book and symbolize their emotional detachment in the face of the horrors of war. The reader is meant to be initially appalled at Müller's eagerness to inherit the boots before Kemmerich has even died, but it shows how pragmatic and unemotional soldiers must be about death, even when it is the death of their friends. After Müller dies later in the book, Paul Bäumer inherits them, and is grateful that they are a good fit. In the same breath, he notes how he has promised them to Tjaden when he dies. The boots actually outlive all of these characters, which also symbolizes that, to the powers that be, the soldiers are more disposable than the uniforms they wear.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, why does Remarque allow Paul Bäumer to maintain his humanity throughout the war?

In order to survive, Paul Bäumer must shut down his feelings or else risk being overwhelmed by them. But while he can be gruesomely pragmatic—such as when he helps Muller acquire the dying Kemmerich's boots—he also senses when his comrades need comfort and companionship. For example, he sits with the dying Kemmerich, keeping him company so that he won't die alone. Even when Paul encounters the enemies that he has been trained to hate, he is able to find compassion for them, such as the French soldier whom he kills. His compassion is what keeps him human, even though it pains him. By allowing Paul to maintain his humanity in this way, Remarque shows that while the war exerts tremendous pressure on soldiers to forgo their humanity, it cannot entirely succeed in destroying it. But Paul's very ability to maintain his compassion also has a bitter consequence. His sudden death in Chapter 12 is more tragic than it might have been if he had remained strictly cold and detached throughout the novel.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Chapter 9 how do the ways Paul Bäumer gets physically lost mirror the ways he feels emotionally lost?

In Chapter 9, Paul Bäumer finds himself alone while on patrol when a bomb lands near him, disorienting him. Even though he recognizes the voices of comrades nearby, he is paralyzed with fear and unable to move. Panic sets in, and his emotions begin to get the better of him. This moment reveals how tenuous Paul's survival is, both physically and emotionally, and how closely linked they are. Much of Paul's ability to remain level-headed comes from his sense that he is linked physically and emotionally with his comrades, and so when he finds himself separated from them, he feels lost on all counts.

How accurately does the Author's Note at the beginning of All Quiet on the Western Front reflect what takes place in the novel?

The Author's Note is most accurate when it says that the novel is "least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it." The novel doesn't glamorize soldiers' encounters with death, but presents them in graphic, stomach-churning detail. It also shows the terrible cost that soldiers must pay emotionally as they confront death on a daily basis. However, it is hard not to see this novel as a kind of "confession" because it is narrated in the first-person by Paul Bäumer, who shares shocking details about the soldiers' lives in camp and on the front lines, and their tortured emotions. He also calls out the "very great deal of fraud, injustice, and baseness in the army" that lead him and his comrades to question the very basis of the war. These revealing details would have inevitably startled readers of the time unfamiliar with the facts of wartime experience. The novel also could be interpreted as an "accusation" due to its open criticism of the way the war is conducted. The novel's characters clearly point to national leaders and the military as guilty parties due to their manipulation of patriotism and careless disregard of their own soldiers. The novel does succeed in partially fulfilling the aim of "trying simply to tell of a generation of men, who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war" through its portrayal of the traumatic effects of war on the soldiers. But this part of the note is also inaccurate to some extent because almost every soldier in Paul's platoon, as well as Paul himself, is dead by the end of the novel as a result of warfare. The emphasis is on the dead more than on those who survive the war.

What role does the death of Katczinsky play in All Quiet on the Western Front?

As Paul Bäumer's friends gradually die off by the end of the novel, he becomes increasingly numb to the loss, until the death of Katczinsky. Kat was the most resourceful of all the soldiers, able to find food and other necessities miraculously in the most unlikely places. Paul's friendship with Kat is brotherly, intense, and loyal, and it is his death in Chapter 11 that makes Paul feel truly alone for the first time, stripping him of the emotional shield he needs to survive. He himself dies only a few months later. Kat's death illustrates both the absurdity and cruelty of the war. Kat's initial wound was serious and he was in pain, but neither he nor Paul believed it was fatal. They even stop to drink tea and smoke cigarettes on their way to get him medical help. This setup creates the possibility that Paul will succeed in getting Kat to the dressing station, although he knows that Kat may have to go to the hospital and they may never see each other again. When Paul finally arrives at the dressing station carrying Kat, he believes he has succeeded in getting his friend the help he needs. Unfortunately, an orderly informs him that Kat has died on the way because he was hit by a stray shell splinter. Not only has Paul failed to save his friend, he did not even know Kat was dead. Kat's second wound suggests that hope is no more than a cruel joke in wartime.

Why might the German military have found All Quiet on the Western Front offensive?

The German military that fought during World War I might have found All Quiet on the Western Front offensive because of its criticism of how they conducted the war and treated their soldiers. The war provides an excuse for men in authority to abuse the men below them in order to fortify their own need for power. Remarque points out that the emphasis was put on the wrong things, and that the soldiers did not have enough support, physically or emotionally. Paul Bäumer observes how, near the end of the war, their weapons begin to break down and their rations run out. The soldiers are forced to give back their new uniforms after the Kaiser leaves, showing how their leaders focus on appearances rather than on the facts of war and their devastating effects on the troops. The novel also emphasizes the unglamorous and often horrifying aspects of the war, rather than encouraging people to fight for their country by emphasizing patriotic duty. In fact, Paul and his comrades often pinpoint the meaningless of the war and how the men who have been labeled their enemies are really no different from themselves.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Chapter 11 which literary techniques does Katczinsky's story about the man with the wooden leg include and why?

Katczinsky tells the story of the man with the wooden leg whom a surgeon declares fit to return to fight at the front. A man with a wooden leg clearly doesn't belong in combat and the surgeon should know better, but he doesn't even examine the man. Because "we need soldiers up there" at the front, he simply declares him fit for duty. The soldier finds this absurd and replies that "when I got back again and they shoot off my head, then I will get a wooden head made and become staff surgeon." The story acts as a satire, using humor to show how men, even those clearly unfit for duty, are used thoughtlessly by their nations to fuel the war machine. It is also an example of black humor, in which a morbid subject is treated in a comic way; in this case, the loss of a man's leg in combat and the lack of sensitivity or good judgment on the surgeon's part. In addition, the story is a demonstration of situational irony, in which the way a situation is likely to occur differs significantly from what actually happens. Rather than respecting the surgeon's authority or his decision to return him to the front lines, the soldier makes fun of his stupidity by joking that the surgeon is wooden-headed, or stupid.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Chapter 4 what is the significance of the first battle scene taking place in a graveyard?

The reader is introduced to the tension and uncertainty that the soldiers face on the front lines in Chapter 4. The soldiers are forced to take cover in a graveyard of recently killed soldiers, using their coffins and corpses as shields. The living are being protected from death by the already dead, and Paul Bäumer realizes that it could very well be him lying in this graveyard next. The significance of the first battle scene taking place here is to remind the reader how close and personal death is to the soldiers at all times, and that it is so matter-of-fact to them that they are not even upset by what they have to do in the graveyard. They are simply doing what they need to do to survive. According to Paul, if they don't make it out of the graveyard alive, at least their bodies won't need to be moved far.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Chapter 4 what does Paul Bäumer mean by comparing the front to a whirlpool?

In Chapter 4, Paul observes that "To me the front is a mysterious whirlpool. Though I am in still water far away from its centre, I feel the whirl of the vortex sucking me slowly, irresistibly, inescapably into itself." His metaphor shows that the front is an all-consuming force that sucks soldiers in both physically and mentally the closer they get to it. Approaching the front forces a soldier to sharpen his instincts and rely on animal instinct in his reactions. To try to survive a whirlpool is exhausting, because the harder you fight the current, the more tired and consumed you become. In some ways, it's easier for Paul and the other soldiers to give in to the chaos of the front and get caught up in the fighting.

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