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All Quiet on the Western Front | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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In All Quiet on the Western Front, how might the novel be different if it was told from the perspective of a soldier from another country?

Although Paul Bäumer describes how downtrodden the German army became toward the end of the war, contrasting their poor food and disintegrating weapons with the well-fed, well-armed British and American soldiers, it's likely that accounts by soldiers from other sides would have been similar to Paul's. The new technology and tactics used in World War I guaranteed that soldiers on both sides saw a level of mass carnage and suffering that hadn't been experienced in previous wars. It's no coincidence, for example, that the term "shell shock" was introduced to describe the psychological trauma soldiers from either side experienced. "The Lost Generation" is a label that applied to everyone in Paul's generation, regardless of which side of the war they fought on.

Why is it significant that Kantorek calls Paul Bäumer and his friends the "Iron Youth" in All Quiet on the Western Front?

In Chapter 1, Paul Bäumer recounts how Kantorek praised him and his friends as the "Iron Youth" who would win the war for Germany. After enlisting in the war and experiencing its horrors up close, Paul begins to find Kantorek's label increasingly inaccurate, as after only one year, and at the age of 19, the soldiers no longer feel young at all. Nor do they feel that they are made of iron, as their steely resolve merely comes from wanting to avoid emotionally confronting the brutality of what they've witnessed. If anything, Paul and his friends feel like disillusioned and numb old men. Kantorek's phrase is more like propaganda, sentimentalizing Paul and his comrades as symbols of national pride after they have come to realize how little patriotism really has to do with the war at all.

What tone does Kemmerich's death and the soldiers' reaction to it set in All Quiet on the Western Front?

Kemmerich's death in Chapter 2 is treated in a matter-of-fact and unemotional manner by the soldiers. They know that he is slowly dying in the hospital, and though they visit him, their biggest concern, especially on Müller's part, appears to be who will inherit his boots, a rare commodity. Paul Bäumer seems to be the most compassionate of his friends, keeping Kemmerich company until his death, but even he realizes the pragmatism of passing the boots along to a new owner. Their response to Kemmerich's death sets a tone of emotional distance for the sake of survival, which the soldiers need to maintain in order to stay alive. The reality of their situation may be jarring to the reader, but Remarque wants to reflect the truth of a soldier's experience, even if it seems grim and unflattering.

What role do chance and luck play for the soldiers in All Quiet on the Western Front?

In Chapter 6, Paul Bäumer notes that "No soldier outlives a thousand chances. But every soldier believes in Chance and trusts his luck." He also believes that "it is this Chance that makes us indifferent." In many ways, surviving the bombardments and attacks of World War I was less about skill or experience in combat and more about chance and luck—being in the right place at the right time or vice versa. Many of Paul's comrades, such as Kropp and Katczinsky, meet their demise merely by being at the wrong place at the wrong time—caught by a falling shell or having had to wait too long for help. Being more or less experienced doesn't increase their odds of survival. Witnessing the randomness of their fates causes Paul to become indifferent to his own, because he has no control over events based on chance and luck.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Chapter 10 how is Kropp's amputated leg a symbol of the soldiers' overall wartime experience?

In Chapter 10, the doctors at the Catholic hospital where Paul Bäumer and Albert Kropp are recovering amputate Albert's leg. Paul notices that "now he will hardly speak anymore," and Albert claims that he will shoot himself when he is able to get his hands on a gun again. Paul tries to reassure him that he will make do with an artificial limb, Albert remains sullen and withdrawn. Considering that Albert's entire adult identity has been based on his life as a soldier, the loss of his leg guarantees that that portion of his life is now over. And while that may be a good thing, he also seems to feel that he has nothing else in life to look forward to and cannot return to his former life. In many ways, he symbolizes Paul's belief that they are members of "The Lost Generation," doomed to feel alienated from life. Albert's lost limb is symbolic of how he and the other soldiers have been effectively cut off from the rest of humanity.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, what symbolic role do rats and lice play?

The rats and lice contrast with the beautiful trees and butterflies that uplift Paul Bäumer at other points in the novel. The rats eat the soldiers' rations and gnaw on their corpses, while the lice suck the soldiers' blood. Both rats and lice also carry infectious diseases. On the one hand, their behavior may disgust humans, but these creatures are simply doing what they can to survive. In this sense, they oddly resemble the soldiers themselves, who are also focused on meeting their practical needs in order to survive by using their instincts. But the interaction of the the rats and lice with the soldiers also mimics the destructive cycle of the war itself, which feeds off death and destruction, consuming the lives of the soldiers in order to sustain itself. The rats are a constant presence in the trenches and the soldiers are forced to ruthlessly kill them the same way they are ruthlessly killed in battle. The soldiers must do the same with lice, which they cannot ever seem to get rid of, despite Tjaden devising clever ways to slaughter them in large numbers.

What is the soldiers' attitude toward the knowledge they learned in school in All Quiet on the Western Front?

The soldiers feel that the knowledge they gained in school is useless to them in war. After training camp, Paul Bäumer notes in Chapter 2 that "we learned that a bright button is weightier than four volumes of Schopenhauer," a famous German philosopher. Many of his friends are well-schooled in math and science, knowledge that is meaningless in battle. Paul himself had a deep love of books growing up, but upon his return home in Chapter 7, he finds he can barely look at them, because they belong to a life he no longer knows. In many ways, the soldiers feel disdainful of their previous schooling and teachers, bitter that they were ill-prepared for what real war is like. It does not help that Kantorek, their teacher, ignorantly spurred them to enlist for the sake of national honor and glory.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, what does Bäumer mean when he says of the older soldiers, "they have a background so strong that the war cannot obliterate it"?

Paul Bäumer notices in Chapter 2 that there is a distinction among the soldiers that will likely change the way they will be able to readjust to civilian life—the older soldiers have lives they can return to with "wives, children, occupations, and interests." They have outlets and distractions that will help stabilize them and give them something to live for. But Paul and his friends, who are only 19 years old, hadn't begun their adult lives before the war began, and returning to the habits and interests of their youth seems pitiful. He worries that it is they who will have their lives obliterated by war, because they will have little to identify with when they return home.

Why do Paul Bäumer's peaceful memories of his former life make him sad rather than hopeful in All Quiet on the Western Front?

In Chapter 6, Paul Bäumer falls into a reverie of memories about nature in the town he grew up in, and marvels that when his mind drifts like this, there is always a calmness in what he recalls about his past. He notes that "quietness is unattainable for us now," which saddens him rather than awaking his desire for it. "They belong to another world which is gone from us," he says. That world is no longer accessible to him on the front lines, and he fears that he will never know that kind of peace again because of what he's experienced in the war. He has been fundamentally changed and now sees his former surroundings through a pessimistic lens.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, why is Paul Bäumer reluctant to articulate his experience in the war to his father?

When Paul Bäumer returns home on leave in Chapter 7, he experiences feelings of alienation from his loved ones rather than a sense of comfort and safety. He is relieved that his mother doesn't ask him about his experiences in the war. But his father wants to hear all about it, which distresses Paul. He realizes that "it is too dangerous to put these things into words ... what would become of us if everything that happened out there were quite clear to us?" What bothers Paul is not just the notion that a civilian like Paul's father might not understand the war. It also has to do with the fact that for Paul to talk about it means that he will have to deal with it on an emotional and psychological level, which he is unprepared for and fearful of. In order for him to return to war and survive, he must keep the emotions of his experience at a safe distance—and talking about it with his father will not allow him to do so. Paul is also put off by his father's ignorant opinions about the war, which only widens the gap between them.

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