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(Course Hero, 2016)
Course Hero. "All Quiet on the Western Front Study Guide." October 13, 2016. Accessed June 2, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/All-Quiet-on-the-Western-Front/.
Course Hero, "All Quiet on the Western Front Study Guide," October 13, 2016, accessed June 2, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/All-Quiet-on-the-Western-Front/.
Professor Bradley Greenburg of Northeastern Illinois University explains the plot summary of Erich Maria Remarque's novel All Quiet on the Western Front.
All Quiet on the Western Front is narrated by a young German soldier, Paul Bäumer, while he is in the midst of fighting on the front lines in World War I. The "Western Front" refers to the main area in which the war was fought, created as Germany invaded France through Belgium and Luxembourg. Rather than open the novel in the midst of battle as in most war epics, All Quiet on the Western Front begins by focusing on soldiers resting and biding their time until their return to the front. Paul is stationed with a few of his friends from school, all of whom enlisted in the war on the advice of their teacher, Kantorek, who insisted that it was a glorious and noble pursuit. The reality, they have realized, is much grimmer, and their day-to-day lives focus mainly on survival and dulling their emotions.
They visit their dying comrade Kemmerich in the infirmary, who has had his leg amputated. Müller eyes his boots, which are a valuable commodity and which Kemmerich will no longer need—he'll likely die soon anyhow. The men discuss their training camp commander, Corporal Himmelstoss, and the ways in which he has made their lives miserable by abusing his power by overdisciplining them. They posit that his abuse of power in the army comes from the fact that he had so little authority in his civilian life.
The men return to the front because they are called up to install new fencing. Nervous, they move quickly and on high alert, and are soon caught in heavy fire when the French attack. They attempt to shield themselves in a cemetery while shells explode the coffins and corpses around them, forcing them to hide under dead bodies of fellow soldiers. Many of their fellow soldiers also die in the attack, though Paul and his friends survive. After they return to the safety of their camp, they discuss their plans for life after the war ends. Many of them are at a loss, because they are too young to have established adult lives and careers before they enlisted. Paul worries that they have been alienated permanently from civilian life.
After being called up to the front for battle, they are hit hard again by the French army. Many of the men in their company are new, younger recruits who begin to lose their minds after being forced to hide in a bunker for days on end while the shelling continues. The depiction of the above-ground battle is gruesome, and forces the soldiers to emotionally detach from what they are witnessing in order to stay calm and survive. They are eventually able to retreat, but lose more than one hundred men in the process.
The men are relieved from the front lines after suffering catastrophic losses, and sent back to camp so that their company can be reorganized. While biding their time, Paul and his friends encounter some French women on the other side of the canal who invite them over. They scurry over once night falls, because it is against the rules to cross the territory without a government pass. While they have a good time, Paul realizes that, to these women, he and the other soldiers are no more than a means to get food, and he feels lonelier than ever.
Paul is given a 17-day leave to go home, and he makes his way by train to his parents' house. Once there, he recognizes how truly alienated he is from his family and civilian life. He finds that he can't discuss the horrors of the war both because no one will understand and because it will cause him too much emotional anguish. Nothing from his old life gives him pleasure anymore, and he feels utterly lost and alone, worried he will never be able to live a normal life once the war ends.
After his leave is over, Paul returns to the training camp for a month. Part of his duties include guarding Russian prisoners, and Paul comes to understand that soldiers from the opposing side are not his enemy—they don't even make any of the decisions about the war in which they are forced to fight.
When Paul returns to the front lines, his company is again attacked by the French. A soldier from the other side falls on Paul who is hiding in a shell hole. Paul stabs him, and the man slowly dies over the next day, causing Paul to feel remorse for the man's suffering.
Back at camp, Paul and his friend Kropp are injured while guarding an abandoned village. Both are hospitalized, and Kropp's leg is amputated. Paul is able to recover, and returns to the front lines where the Germans are losing the battle. Many of Paul's remaining friends are killed, experience mental breakdowns, or are captured as they try to desert. One month before the war ends, Paul is killed.
All Quiet on the Western Front Plot Diagram